CUSTOMER SERVICE Part 2: making it work

Here are some typical all too well known phrases that are easily spoken; but often only resentfully respected, and sadly but consequently rarely truly put into action:
• The customer is King
• Treat your customer as you would like to be treated by him or her
• Think of your customer as the person who really funds your salary
• The customer is always right (which, by the way, is of course not true anyway really!)
• And here’s my personal favourite: Hug your customers!

What do you think of these? How about you make some cool posters (and cute badges for your employees to wear) with these phrases and hang them everyone sees them? Done? Sorted? Winners?

Let’s talk about some easy but key aspects of creating a true customer focused environment and culture that delivers to your business needs.

You see, in practice, displaying a slogan on a banner in the office or backroom of your retail store will not do much for the customer. It can even backfire, as a certain European distributor of pharmaceutical products experienced. This company’s management decided to express their passion for Customer Service by repainting the office walls in a light green and hanging signs and banners – e.g. “The customer is #1” – all aimed to enhance the quality of customer service. Cynically, the employees joked at the slogans and became resistant to further change of attitude and action.

Management should certainly try to instill and reinforce the necessary positive and ever-pleasant customer-focused attitude expected from all the personnel, but there are limits to this approach.

1. Lead by example
It’s that simple, and sorry, non-negotiable. No one cares more about the customer than the business owner him/herself. They know the truth. Without customers there’s no business. Finished. So go down to the floor and meet and greet and talk to your customers. Let everyone know YOU care.

2. Positive Thinking and Positive Attitudes
Mr. Vincent Grimaldi is an international strategist specialized in customer-oriented change management. He is managing partner of The Grimaldi Group, a New York-based consultancy, and a regular speaker on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s what Mr. Grimaldi has to say: “Hiring people with a positive attitude is a good start. With the right people promoting your company and products, quality customer service is likely to be delivered easily, consistently and profitably. In most organizations, (he’s excluding online sales and service platforms for example) the chances are that it is the only way to deliver the brand promise consistently at every contact point with the customer every time.”

I like the following phrase very much: “Hire for attitude; train for skill.” I saw that in an enlightening book by Tim Waterstone, called “Swimming Against The Stream: Creating Your Business and Making Your Life”.

Mr. Waterstone is a world-renowned speaker and the founder of Waterstones, the largest chain of bookstores outside of the USA. In his book we are told that two months before the first store was to be opened, a simple advertisement was placed in London’s Evening Standard. It read: Experienced booksellers required for a new bookshop – Waterstone’s – in Old Brompton Road. Opening in September. The first of many. Our objective is to have the best literary bookshops in the land, staffed by the best, happiest literary booksellers”.

REMEMBER: Although everybody is entitled to have a bad day, displaying a negative attitude can be very costly for any business. Research has shown that the story of a bad experience circulates five times farther than a good one.

So, when interviewing potential employees, ask questions that relate to their true personality and to their true ideals, and work towards gaining a true insight of their true character and general behaviour. What your interviewee has done before working for you, where they’ve worked and what they have accomplished, all that is written out clearly on their CV hopefully. It is quickly checked. WHO your employee really is – and how they feel about things and how they naturally interact with people and what makes them happy – is what you really want to find out.

3. Clarity of Real Options
Often the staff you employ will indeed be fired up and motivated to ensuring that the customer is ‘always happy’.
They have the smile, the compelling aura of goodwill personified, and yes, they have the necessary product knowledge too. But, remember our smiling bank assistant (story 1 in part 1 of this post) who, however much she may have wanted to, simply could not open a 4-way split account for my good friend and his lovely children?

You see, all too often, personnel are challenged by the ideal of satisfying the customer’s every whim and the fact that at the end of the day they work for the company, within its guidelines and solely for its benefits.

So, how do we help our employees find balance between these two necessary goals?
Well the truth is that the solution is quite simple. It lies in giving our personnel perfect clarity of
the company’s identity
b) what we stand for
c) what their real job description is
d) a clear set of guidelines of the maximum services we are prepared to offer our customers and their limitations
and finally e) management’s ever-present support.

There’s a wonderful quote from best-selling business visionary, Tom Peters. He says: “It is wonderful people that makes wonderful companies, and that is all there is.” Mr. Waterstone adds: “those wonderful people are not truly empowered by ‘freedom’ (to be wonderful and good and kind) in itself; but by freedom within the parameters of a company with a strategic vision so clear and articulated that all can understand the joy of working within it.”

In the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain every employee who is confronted with a customer problem owns that problem until the customer is satisfied. And, every Ritz-Carlton employee has the right to appropriately spend up to $2000US without authorization to make customer problems go away! Obviously a report is filed to management and management is there to support the employee before such actions are taken, but the point is clear, I think.

What is the best example of great customer service that you have seen in your company?
Share your story please:)