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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 95 – Customer Service

Tell me what you can do, not what you can’t do

Do you have good customer service?

It sounds rather like a silly question – “of course we provide good customer service *bristles indignantly* but – I can tell you where it’s not!”

The thing with good customer service is that it is seamless – you know its happening but most of the time we can’t put our finger on the exact “what” that makes good customer service.

We can all tell what it isn’t though – the cashier who is surly or doesn’t make eye contact, fails to stop his / her conversation with a friend or work colleague or chews gum. And it is the same on the telephone – we can tell when someone is bored or just going through the motions, those who are angry, hostile, sad or weepy – just like we can tell when someone is happy and pleased to hear from you. You just know.

And then there are the organisations that are inconsistent. They may say one thing, but their actions are completely at odds with their words. A personal case in point – I am a regular gym go-er, I like to do 3 weights sessions per week on top of a “lot” of cardio (when you sit down all day, sometimes you just need to move). Anyway a couple of weeks ago I was sick and unable to train for about a week… so when I got an SMS from the club manager (who hadn’t been in the gym the last time I’d been there) asking what she could do to motivate me to exercise… to be honest I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – those who really know me, wouldn’t need to ask that question. I politely told her that after I stopped being sick I’d be back … Why is it inconsistent customer service? Well, the day I went back – she ignored me completely – and it’s not the first time she’s done that either. And if she had read my case notes she would notice the irony in her message.

So – the question is how we can leverage “good customer service” to benefit our customers, our businesses and ourselves.

1.    Be consistent
Consistency with customer service is essential. Every time you speak to someone, every time you pick up the telephone, write an email, write a business proposal. Every time you go to work, every time you interact with another person be they an internal client, an external client or member of the public – the quality of who you are is on show. Go back through your interactions today; would you be happy with the overall consistency of your business dealings? How can you “fix” any inconsistencies?

2.    If you make a mistake – own it and fix it.
We can and do make mistakes, we are human after all. The difference is not that we make mistakes its how we deal with the aftermath of that mistake that matters. Do we learn from our mistakes so we don’t make them again? Or are you the kind of person who “blames” circumstances?

3.    Be proactive, but don’t annoy people with your messages.
I don’t know about you, but I hate to be bombarded with messages after I’ve signed up for a service. Even worse I hate to be bombarded with messages after I’ve unsubscribed – if you hadn’t sent me a message every 5 minutes telling me how wonderful you were, I wouldn’t need to unsubscribe AND I might have actually read your message.

When it comes to keeping in contact with your customer base it is up to you of course how many times per day / week / month / year you “sell” your service. One interesting statistic regarding social media (eg., Facebook pages and Twitter) I read recently stated that for every “sales” message you send out, you need 50 – 100 non-sales messages – and yes there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of that statistic and are quickly unfollowed. When it comes to marketing any service (including ourselves) it takes time to build a following (unless you happen to be the @BronxZoosCobra that is) and you shouldn’t do anything to jeopardise your relationships with the messages you send out. And talking of the once escaped cobra, it was interesting how many businesses in the New York area got in on the slithery phenomena and raised their business profiles as a result.  Now that’s what I really do call proactive marketing.

When organisations say “people” are their most important asset, I just wonder if they realise just by how much, and whether they are taking advantage or nurturing those same people. For those in management, or in the business of being in business who read these musings and thoughts, that is definitely something to think about.

4.    Be polite, always – you never know who you are dealing with.
As you know I worked on contract as a librarian through Information Enterprises for a number of years. When you begin your new role (and this applies to any job, not just contract work), you know very few people. If you were the kind of person who tends to be nice to the people at the top and less polite to the ones who may not be able to further your career, then you were in trouble. One of the more interesting positions I’ve been fortunate to undertake recently highlighted this again to me, because the “problem” if I could call it that was that regardless of your “rank” everyone within the organisation all wore the same “uniform”. There were no visual clues, and most of the time even if they told you their names it wouldn’t mean anything at the beginning.

So what do you do? – Be polite, all the time to everyone you meet. Yes it really is that simple. You can back fill names of course as you go, but can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if you had been rude / indifferent to the person who looked like the cleaner with his crumpled trousers and stained shirt, only to find out later the CEO had been mucking in with the rest of the team on a community day.

I personally love meeting new people, and I love finding out how I can help them do their job better and more efficiently. I have a personal philosophy that says “to do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you if your positions were reversed” which I think is something to think about.

5.    Never deal in double standards – you never know who is watching you.
Carrying on from the previous point – you cannot deal in double standards with anyone. I don’t care if we are talking your spouse, your kids, your family, friends or work colleagues. If you deal in double standards, people will notice and you will lose any credibility you may have had.

6.    The point of difference
You can go into any business and find examples of good, bad and indifferent customer service. Take the hospitality industry as a very good example. There are some places that always seem to go out of their way to make your experience one that makes you feel good and willing to go back to. Then there are places where the food is good but for some reason the service is inconsistent. There are several places where we used to regularly go for coffee on a weekend. We decided to find an alternative place after inconsistent service and not being told there was going to be a wait of 40 minutes for coffee. Once maybe, twice you ask, third time = go elsewhere. The food / coffee might be good, but you cannot rely on the service – so you take your business elsewhere. The key I feel are the person(s) on the front counter! Why do you think the TV show Undercover Boss is so popular? Cringe worthy – you bet. And that is why. Everyone has the power to make or break the organisation they work for. Sometimes I think it’s a shame more people (especially management) don’t seem to be aware of that fact.