After several months of sheltering at home, staggering business losses and high unemployment, we’re slowly and cautiously reopening the country.
In my coaching and consulting sessions with executives during the pandemic, we’ve discussed critical issues such as speed, agility, resilience, pivoting, adaptability, prioritizing, change, strategy, scenario planning, transformation, rebuilding, rethinking and much more.
Excellence in customer service
As we enter the new normal, excellence in customer service will be an imperative! In an era where customers demand high-speed information; the role of the customer service function and the employees who deliver this service are pivotal. Customer service is communication central for day-to-day information on customer satisfaction, customer relations and customer intentions. The customer service frontline is both your first line of defense and, increasingly, your vital early-warning system.
Today’s customer service managers must be experts not only in customer relations, problem-solving, and core products and services, but also in gathering, synthesizing, assessing and distributing data. Every customer contact is a critical data point — a chance to learn something important about a valued customer.
It’s safe to say the pandemic has taught us many lessons. For companies, a major lesson is that today’s customer service function is a profit center with a huge impact on customer retention and future plans. We all need to learn new ways to listen to our customers and expand the parameters of what we listen for.
Customers with strong feelings, positive or negative, are the customers who are most likely and least likely to do business with us again.
Service quality is recognized as the marketing edge that can differentiate one commodity from another. The service imperative means that we must pay increasing attention to whatever it takes, one-on-one and one-by-one, to earn the love, loyalty and respect of our customers.
Effective customer service starts with a comprehensive definition of customer service. Current definitions are based on meeting or exceeding customer expectations, satisfying or delighting customers, or delivering in full and on time. While these are necessary conditions, they are insufficient to guarantee success.
I define customer service in our new world as the process of building customer trust in the delivery of selected goods and services. Trust forms a partnership. Satisfaction at a transactional level is insufficient. Trustworthiness is needed in order to become a partner and remain a partner. Without trust, no customer would enter into such a relationship.
I view customer service as a series of well-defined tasks that focus on building the customer’s trust. To execute this process, every person needs to be trained until behavior that builds trust becomes habitual. There needs to be a reward system in place that is directed toward developing and reinforcing the habit to ensure that it is sustained over time.
The psychology of buying is the psychology of trust. So, use every opportunity to build trust. Fine-tune the customer service process to build trust. Do this continually to ensure success.
Trust is a function of competence and character. Competence is understanding needs and arriving at solutions that work in the customer’s context and constraints. Character is using the competence to propose a solution that is in the customer’s best interest. Customers need to believe that you have the character to use your competence while keeping their best interests at the forefront.
While initial perceptions of character and competence help land new customers, keeping customers is a function of their expectations. A critical element in retaining today’s customer is actual service delivery performance, as well as what organizations do to close gaps between expectations and outcomes.
Train your people to use the gaps as a way to build trust. The question to ask is, “Where can I invest the next dollar to build the most trust?” The most effective way to build trust is to focus on delivering those services where there is vibrant synergy between the organization’s core competencies and the customers’ needs.
An exercise to evaluate trust: How well do you know your customers?
Select one of your major customers. List all of the major services you provide to maintain the trust of that customer. Include benefits you consider over and above the norm. Include pricing, quality, quantity discounts, delivery, problem-solving — list everything. In a separate column, write how well or how poorly your main competitor provides the same services for that account.
If you’re unaware of what services your chief competitor offers, especially extra benefits over and above the norm, you’re at a decided competitive disadvantage. When times get rough like they are now and customers cut back on orders, yours may be the first to go or get cut. Add to the list any services your main competitor has that you don’t. You shouldn’t be surprised at what they are, but you might be.
Now, rethink what you need to stay or become that customer’s favored supplier. Think in terms of reinvigorating the relationship. Always remember that trust is the keyword. When your customer trusts you, they have faith in you, and that’s the most crucial benefit you can provide.
Jeff Wolf is one of the most highly sought-after executive coaches and consultants in business today. He has been named one of the country’s top 100 thought leaders for his accomplishments in leadership development and managerial effectiveness and has been featured on NBC, CBS, CNBC, and Fox. Wolf is the author of the international best-seller “Seven Disciplines of a Leader” and is known as one of America’s most dynamic speakers. He may be reached in his San Diego office at 858-638-8260, by email or at his website.