The Customer Service Casualty – The Lost Art of Customer Service

I was training some new Customer Service Representatives the other day, a task I take very seriously, and came across some customer service atrocities I thought I would share. If you recognize some of the bad behavior I list below, then you should consider making some changes.

My industry is Self Storage. This article is written with self storage facilities as the customer service example. The concepts in this article are universal. If you are not in self storage, you will still find strategies that work for you!

When I was training sales organizations across the United States, from time to time I would run into an abominable customer service situation. When I came across an obvious profit-killer, I would seek out the Manager/Owner and simply say, “If you can’t change your people…change your people!”

Yes, I am suggesting that you fire those responsible for costing you money. I know, I know; this person is your sister-in-law and you owe her because she saved your life at Sea World, or your great-grandfather, who just got out of prison needed a job and just needs a little time adjusting to the outside world; you can’t fire them…they are family. Well fine then; I guess if you have to do something, let’s try training them before firing them.

In selling, the receptionist is often referred to as the “GATEKEEPER”. The rejectionist, uh, receptionist is referred to in this manner because one of his/her job descriptions is to keep sales people from the owner/manager. I have heard that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so why risk it? There are a few simple premises on which customer service is based. If you adhere to these principles, you will be more successful more often.

From self storage San Diego to self storage New York, the lowest common denominator among under-producers in our industry is bad customer service. I don’t want to lay the blame solely on managers or receptionists, because we all know there are many owners without a clue running their own show out there. So EVERYONE listen up, customer service is everyone’s job; let’s get it right.

What is a customer anyway? Why do they need service? Originally, the word derives from “custom,” meaning “habit”. A “customer” became another word for someone who frequented a particular shop, and made it a habit to purchase goods sold, and with whom the shopkeeper had to maintain a relationship to keep his or her “custom,” meaning expected purchases in the future (Thanks to Wikipedia).

Nowadays, “customer” also has a broader definition. Customer service has become a term for any interaction with commercial and non-commercial entities. This may be part of the reason that our idea of customer service has become somewhat distorted.

In non-profit situations or government services, the “customer service representative” does not consider themselves as a customer service representative, and certainly does not regard the folks they speak to as “customers” (anyone ever been to the DMV?). People in this capacity don’t have an obligation to maintain a “custom” because they are at next to zero risk of losing their jobs, or losing a customer. Most government employees don’t care if you ever come back! Their lives and jobs would be less complicated if that were the case anyway. Thank goodness in recent years employees in this capacity have objected to the confining restraints that is appropriate customer service, and have substituted the term “customer” with words such as “constituent” or “stakeholder”. Wow! What would it be like to not have to be accountable to those pesky profits and bottom lines?

It is “custom”-ary to say hello when someone walks through the front door. It is customary to stand up when someone enters your business. It is customary to be friendly on the phone. These are all common sense, but you would be surprised at the amount of people who do not put these concepts into common practice. Below, I will describe some situations I came across recently. Please don’t hold it against me that this article is highlighting bad behavior in customer service. I usually like to write positively, but I realize in this article, you have to take your socks off before you clip your toenails.

Let me preface this because I think that it is important to understand the situation first. I was calling for customers to try and find a self storage unit that would work for them. 99% of the time I would call as if I was the customer (at least in the beginning of the call). My point in telling you this is merely to demonstrate that the customer server that answered the phone had no idea that I was not the customer.

Here is how many of the calls went:

Ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….ring….

OK, rule #1: If you have a business, make sure you answer the phone.

Ring….ring….ring. “You have reached the Johnson residence, please leave a message after the beep.”

Rule #2: If you have a business, make sure that you have a dedicated line for that business, even if you run it out of your home. If you absolutely must have voicemail for your business (I have no idea why you would given today’s modern technology), make sure that it is personally professional.
The ingredients of a good voicemail message are simple. When recording a voicemail message smile and start your message with an excited greeting. Then apologize for missing the call and say something like, “I am currently assisting other valued customers just like you in their search to find the perfect storage facility and unit for their needs.” Explain on your voicemail that their call is very important to you, and that you will be returning their call as soon as possible. Lastly, wish them a good day until you speak. Leave them thinking that you run a professional organization.

Ring…ring…ring…

“Hello?”

Rule #3: Try a different approach. In business it is rather important that the customer know they are calling a business, otherwise you have increased your chances by 60% that you will be hung up on. An appropriate inbound phone call answer sounds something like this, “Thanks for calling XYZ storage, where safety of your belongings is our number one concern. How can I be of assistance today?” This greeting starts off with a thank you, leads then into a company credo that establishes credibility for your self storage facility immediately, and ends with a pledge that you are there to earn their business. You would like something a little simpler? OK, try this, “Reservations, how may I help you?” BAM, right out of the gate you let them know that you are serious about getting them the self storage unit they are looking for.

Another common occurrence in self storage is the surprise phone call…

Ring…ring…ring…

“Hello, this is XYZ Storage, can I help you with something?” (That is a real response from a real self storage manager/owner/worker!)

“Yes, this is Brandon. I am looking for a 10×10 unit, can you tell me how much those are and if you have any available?”

“Uh, yes…um…hold on, let me find that inventory sheet…uh, where did I put it? Let me put you on hold for a second while I find out if we have any of those available?”

WOW! Rule #4: Be prepared. Self storage is a fairly simple concept. If you don’t have a computer system that manages your inventory and pricing, then make sure that you have your inventory readily available; put it right by the phone. Please note, it is important to have a notepad next to you EVERY TIME you answer the phone. You are going to need to jot down notes about this customer and their needs. You should also get their name and number to call them back.

Alright I realize that (for some of you) these first four rules have been an insult to your intelligence. These were actual responses from facility owner/manager/receptionists. For the appropriate way to handle an incoming ad call, please take a look at my article on that subject entitled “How to Handle an Ad Call”.

For the rest of my article here I am going to touch on a few more simple rules of customer service in Self Storage. So many businesses have been built on customer service alone. Many more businesses have self destructed because of poor customer service. Implement the following, and you will realize much greater successes.

#5. Somebody told me once that there is NO WAY that the quality of customer service can exceed the quality of the people who provide that service. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! The reasoning behind this is that if you are paying a low wage to your help with no benefits, you should not expect a whole lot from your help. You have to have expectations of your employees no matter what you pay them. I don’t care if you pay $10,000 a year or $100,000 a year, you should expect a certain amount of production from your employees, and if they can’t provide customer service to your standards, get rid of them. There is 10% unemployment right now. Do you think you can’t find someone who will eagerly commit to your expectations of them? The only thing you must remember is this, “YOU CAN’T EXPECT IF YOU DON’T INSPECT”. Constantly be checking to see if your customer service representative is living up to your expectations.

#6. Do you respect each potential customer sincerely? Human beings habitually make 20+ value judgments about a customer in the first 30 seconds after meeting them. It is easy to prejudge a renter when they walk through the door by the clothes they are wearing or the car they drive. Make it a point to greet each customer the same way. Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart used to drive around in an old beat up Chevy truck and dressed in overalls. You never know with whom you are speaking, so treat everyone with respect. Also, when someone walks through your front door into your office, stand up to speak to them; it is the polite thing to do.

#7. Do you know who your customers are? After third grade it is unlikely that we will receive the coveted, “most punctual student award” or the “most likely to excel at finger-painting award”. We all love to be recognized, but as adults it happens less often than we would like. When your customer walks through your door, recognize them by name! They are renters, and they pay the bills; treat them like friends at the very least. This is the simplest way to let them know that you value their business.

#8. Listen attentively! In addition to knowing your customers name, a great way to maintain customer loyalty is to listen to their questions and concerns. Practice waiting two seconds after each statement or question from your customer; this demonstrates you are listening and giving sincere thought to their question or concern.

#9. Great customer servers go the extra mile. If you have not yet implemented a thank you card program, start one now. Send a thank-you note when a customer rents from you; send a birthday or anniversary card; send one anytime you see their name mentioned in the paper; send one anytime you see fit. The key is to recognize people and their value. This is a very important step.

#10. Do your customers know who you are? You are not in business to take orders, you are in business to make sales, find renters and make money. In Hollywood, they call increasing their public profile “PR”. Public relations are very important in self storage also. If your own customers don’t know your name, why would anyone else? You need to create a 3rd party endorsement culture. Make yourself so available to your customers that they can’t do anything else but sing your praises to others when asked about self storage.

This brings me back to making yourself available on the phones. Some business owners make it a point to hide behind their “gatekeeper”, thinking that saves them time spent dealing with salespeople. Please understand that this mindset is only driving a wedge between you and the public (and potential customers). The general consensus is that self storage is in the Real Estate realm. If that is indeed true, then tear a page out of the Real Estate Broker’s handbook and make yourself available to everybody. You can call any Real Estate office and ask for the Broker, if they are not in the receptionist will offer up that Broker’s cell phone number. Yes, this broker is going to have to field some calls from some sales people, but they will never miss a sale or an opportunity to expand their business by making themselves available to everyone who needs them. This practice is imperative. Stop hiding.

#11. If a customer makes a special request, say yes (within reason). Remember that these are the folks that pay the bills. We have all heard the old saying, “the customer is always right”. This is true in most instances. I think it is important to mention that it is imperative to ensure that your customer service representatives be well informed and trained on how you want them to handle a customer complaint. You must explain your policy to your employees or you are destined to be disappointed by your employees. The most important thing to remember about handling customer concerns is if a customer asks you to make an exception, make the exception. It is one customer; one newly loyal customer.

#12. If you want to know what your customers think of your facility, ask them. Put together a quick 5 question survey and include it in their next statement. Or put it right next to the register and ask them to fill it out anonymously and drop it into the suggestion box before they leave. Ask things like what it is they like about your facility; what they don’t like; what you could do to better meet their needs; what they would change. This is a great opportunity to market to your customer base by mail. You can mention changes, updates, specials, and then ask them to fill out your short and sweet survey. If you do mail the survey, include a self addressed stamped envelope or make it a postcard to ensure the customer sends it in.

There is my diatribe on customer service. I could have gone on for another 2,500 words, but I think this is enough for now. Making money in business isn’t necessarily about drumming up new customers, but more about keeping old customers. A customer’s idea about your self storage facility will determine how successful you are, and that perception will depend on the level of customer service you provide.

In Challenging Times, Customer Service Quality Matters Most!

As the wind of economic cycles blows hard, some businesses try to contain costs by cutting corners on customer service quality. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, because customer service quality matters now more than ever. Here’s why:

A. When people buy during an economic downturn they are extremely conscious of the hard-earned money that they spend. Customers want more attention, more appreciation and more recognition when making their purchases with you, not less. Customer service quality is simply essential.

B. Customers want to be sure they get maximum value for the money they spend. They want assistance, education, training, installation, modifications and support. The basic product may remain the same, but they want more service and higher customer service quality.

C. Customers want firmer guarantees that their purchase was the right thing to do. In good times, a single bad purchase can be quickly overlooked or forgotten, but in tough times, every expenditure is scrutinized. Provide the assurance your customers seek with generous service guarantees, regular follow-up and speedy follow-through on all queries and complaints. Customer service quality matters more than you think.

D. In difficult economic times, people spend less time traveling and “wining and dining,” and more time carefully shopping for each and every purchase. Giving great service enhances the customer’s shopping experience and boosts your own company’s image.
When times are good, people move fast and sometimes don’t notice your efforts. In tougher times, people move more cautiously and notice every extra effort you make. Customer service quality is vital because people will pay attention and remember.

E. When money is tight, many people experience a sense of lower self-esteem. When they get good service from your business, it boosts their self-image. And when they feel good about themselves, they feel good about you. And when they feel good about you and your customer service quality, they buy.

F. In tough times, people talk more with each other about saving money and getting good value. Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful force at any time. In difficult times, even more ears will be listening. Be sure the words spoken about your business are good ones by making your customer service quality exceptional!

The Secrets of Superior Service

Giving high customer service quality in tough times makes good business sense. But how do you actually achieve it? Here are eight proven principles you can use to raise customer service quality. I call them The Secrets of Superior Service.

1. Understand how your customers’ expectations are rising and changing over time. What was good enough last year may not be good enough now. Use customer surveys, interviews and focus groups to understand what your customers really want, what they value and what they believe they are getting (or not getting) from your business.

2. Use customer service quality to differentiate your business from your competition. Your products may be reliable and up-to-date – but your competitors’ goods are, too. Your delivery systems may be fast and user-friendly, but so are your competitors’!
You can make a more lasting difference by providing personalized, responsive and extra-mile customer service quality that stands out in a unique way your customers will appreciate – and remember.

3. Set and achieve high standards for customer service quality. You can go beyond basic and expected levels of service to provide your customers with desired and even surprising service interactions.
Determine the standard customer service quality in your industry, and then find a way to go beyond it. Give more choice than “the usual,” be more flexible than “normal,” be faster than “the average’,” and extend a better warranty than all the others.
Your customers will notice your higher standards. But eventually those standards will be copied by your competitors, too. So don’t slow down. Keep stepping up customer service quality!

4. Learn to manage your customers’ expectations. You can’t always give customers everything their hearts desire. Sometimes you need to bring their expectations into line with what you know you can deliver in regard to customer service quality.

The best way to do this is by first building a reputation for making and keeping clear promises. Once you have established a base of trust and good reputation, you only need to ask your customers for their patience in the rare instances when you cannot meet their first requests. Nine times out of ten they will extend the understanding and the leeway that you need.

The second way to manage customers’ expectations is to “under promise, then over deliver.”. Here’s an example: you know your customer wants something done fast. You know it will take an hour to complete. Don’t tell your customer it will take an hour. Instead, let them know you will rush on their behalf, but promise a 90-minute timeframe.

Then, when you finish in just one hour (as you knew you would all along), your customer will be delighted to find that you finished the job “so quickly.” That’s “under promise, then over deliver.” This can help you gain a reputation for customer service quality.

5. Bounce back with effective service recovery. Sometimes things do go wrong. When it happens to your customers, do everything you can to set things right and demonstrate customer service quality. Fix the problem and show sincere concern for any discomfort, frustration or inconvenience. Then do a little bit more by giving your customer something positive to remember – a token of goodwill, a gift of appreciation,

a discount on future orders, an upgrade to a higher class of product.
This is not the time to assign blame for what went wrong or to calculate the costs of repair. Restoring customer goodwill is worth the price in positive word-of-mouth and new business.

6. Appreciate your complaining customers. Customers with complaints can be your best allies in building and improving your business. They point out where your system is faulty or your procedures are weak and problematic. They show where your products or services are below expectations. They point out areas where your competitors are getting ahead or where your staff is falling behind. These are the same insights and conclusions companies pay consultants to provide. But a complainer gives them to you free and can help you raise customer service quality!

And remember, for every person who complains, there are many more who don’t bother to tell you. The others just take their business elsewhere…and speak badly about you. At least the complainer gives you a chance to reply and set things right.

7. Take personal responsibility. In many organizations, people are quick to blame others for problems or difficulties at work: managers blame staff, staff blame managers, Engineering blames Sales, Sales blames Marketing and everyone blames Finance. This does not help. In fact, all the finger-pointing make things much worse.

Blaming yourself doesn’t work, either. No matter how many mistakes you may have made, tomorrow is another chance to do better. You need high self-esteem to deliver customer service quality. Feeling ashamed doesn’t help.

It doesn’t make sense to make excuses and blame the computers, the system or the budget, either. This kind of justification only prolongs the pain before the necessary changes can take place.
The most reliable way to bring about constructive change in your organization is to take personal responsibility and help make good things happen. When you see something that needs to be done, do it to raise customer service quality. If you see something that needs to be done in another department, recommend it. Be the person who makes suggestions, proposes new ideas and volunteers to help on problem solving teams, projects and solutions.

8. See the world from each customer’s point of view. We often get so caught up in our own world that we lose sight of what our customers actually experience.
Make time to stand on the other side of the counter or listen on the other end of the phone. Be a “mystery shopper” at your own place of business. Or become a customer of your best competition. What you notice when you look from the “other side” is what your customers experience every day.

Finally, always remember that customer service quality is the currency that keeps our economy moving. I serve you in one business, you serve me in another. When either of us improves customer service quality, the economy gets a little better. When both of us improve, people are sure to take notice. When everyone improves, the whole world grows stronger and closer together.

The time to make it happen is now.

Customer Service Improves Sales

Henry Ford said ‘The only foundation of real business is service’. In many companies, the customer service function sits outside of the sales channel as it is seen in some way inferior to sales. Yet customer service is integral to sales success. Without good customer service there will be no repeat sales, and repeat sales are the most profitable revenue any company can generate.

The selling process is not complete merely because the customer has stated that he or she will buy your products or services. Throughout the entire selling process, the maintenance of goodwill is important, but even more so after the purchase. Regardless of your customer’s previous feeling towards your company, the experience they have after they have bought will have a significant impact on future sales. Customer service doesn’t complete the sale; it reignites the sales cycle. A worthwhile maxim to adopt is: ‘a customer cannot be regarded as satisfied until we get their next order.’

Whilst customer service represents the last element in many standard sales processes it could also be argued that it is the first element in a recurring sales process. Ask yourself:

  • Did I ensure that the agreements reached with the customer actually happened?
  • Did I attempt to up-sell?
  • Did I ask for a referral?
  • What records are kept and maintained?
  • What feedback did I get about how the customer benefited from my product/ service?
  • How could customer service be improved?

Why Is Customer Service Important?

There are a number of empirical studies on the value of customer service and the effect of repeat business on the bottom line. Frederick Reicheld and Earl Sasser said that ‘if companies knew how much it really costs to lose a customer, they would be able to make accurate evaluations of investments designed to retain customers’. They found that customers become more profitable over time as increased sales; reduced costs of distribution; referrals; and the opportunity to up-sell all add to the bottom line.

Heskett, Sasser, and Scheslinger collaborated on a training programme to assist managers in understanding the lifetime value of customers and in addition advised on the importance of developing a culture whereby employees are engaged to contribute to the value chain. They postulated that employee satisfaction leads to service value which produces customer satisfaction and which in turn results in profits and growth. It is hardly surprising that happen employees produce happy customers.

What is Customer Service?

Is it just about smiling and being nice to customers? It’s a good place to start but it can’t just be about that.

It is generally accepted that it is very difficult to deliver high standards of customer service. Some say we have not been educated for it – it is not our tradition. This observation is often justified by stating that since late Victorian and early Edwardian times fewer and fewer people have worked in ‘service’. What was a major employment sector in those days has now dwindled to almost nothing.

While this has happened, employment has increased in manufacturing, sales, administration, information technology, and social sciences. Through the years ‘working in service’ came to be regarded as a dead end job that nobody wanted and would only take as a last resort. As a result, the label ‘service’ has almost fallen into disrepute, and many people see giving service as something beneath them that lesser mortals do.

However, the truth is that everybody likes and appreciates good service.

Difference between Good & Poor Service
An often quoted but unattributed statistic is that where people have been asked the question – ‘what would you say was the main difference between somewhere where you received good service and somewhere you received poor service’ – in 70 percent of cases the response has been – ‘the attitude and behaviour of the person delivering the service’. Whether true or not, it seems probable that if we receive poor service from somewhere we are unlikely to buy from that source again.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that good customer service does not involve the quality of the product (unless you have advertised a product as being something it is not) but the quality of the people delivering the product or service, and the experience the customer has of buying your product or service.

It is also reasonable to assume that you yourself know the difference between good and poor service and can put yourself in the customer’s shoes when buying your product or service.

It should be relatively easy to establish a list of thing you have purchased in the last couple of months and determine whether the experience you had of buying was good, bad or indifferent. Obviously a lot of buying and selling these days happens without the interaction of people (e.g. buying on the web) and for the purposes of this exercise perhaps you should record those activities separately. Although it might appear simple, an appraisal of your own experience, coupled with putting yourself in the customer’s shoes should provide you with a wealth of information regarding the difference between good and poor service.

Analysing Good Customer Service

Ask the customer

A simple yet highly effective way of establishing the quality of your customer service is to ask the customer. Attached is an example of a customer service questionnaire used in a car distributor showroom (customer service questionnaire).

Standards

You might check out the set of customer service standards as determined by the Institute of Customer Service. In 2007 they conducted some research into what they believe customers wanted. The top ten responses were as follows:

  1. Overall quality of the products/ service
  2. Friendliness of staff
  3. Handling of problems and complaints
  4. Speed of service
  5. Helpfulness of staff
  6. Handling enquiries
  7. Being treated as a valued customer
  8. Competence of staff
  9. Ease of doing business
  10. Being kept informed

Management

In 2004 the Institute of Leadership published the results of a survey with staff regarding the reasons for poor customer service. The top four reasons given were:

  1. 60% of staff believe that the main contributing factor contributing to poor customer service was bad line management
  2. 45% claim that their relationship with their line manager impacted significantly on the service they provide to the customer
  3. 60% felt they were not praised enough for good customer service, and
  4. 10% said they never receive any praise for a job well done

Definition

I have defined customer service as being:

A set of business behaviours which seek to provide superior service to existing and prospective customers; build customer loyalty and repeat business; and influence the acquisition of new customers.

The Follow-up of a Sale

A major life insurance company revealed that in nearly 60% of all life insurance lapses, the policy terminated after the second premium payment. The same company pointed out that after a policyholder makes four premium payments, lapses are negligible. The significance of these statistics is that customers must remain convinced that their buying decisions were correct or repeat purchases are likely to stop. You, through the final step in the selling process – the follow up – can influence the satisfaction your customers derive from their purchases.

Consider one of your customers whose purchases have been poor during the past year and are not likely to increase significantly in the future. Also assume that you have one highly profitable account whose purchases amount to nearly 25% of the total volume of your business. What sort of follow-up and service should you provide to each? Naturally the larger, more profitable account would probably receive greater attention on your part.

For all customers, you should analyse how extensive your follow-up should be. For most accounts, an occasional email, letter or telephone call should suffice. For more active customers you might need to make in-person calls every week or so. Customers who have made or are likely to make large purchases at some time in the future certainly deserve the best personal service you can provide.

Many salespeople are fond of quoting the Pareto Principle in regard to sales, saying that around 80% of their customers provide them with only about 20% of the total sales volume in their territories. Conversely, about 80% of total sales volume comes from only 20% of their customers.

Your principal responsibility as a salesperson is to sell products or services profitably. This should be your rule of thumb when servicing accounts. Your time is limited, but time spent with customers is often an investment in greater sales and future profits. Even accounts that are semi-active or lacking in potential might become high volume purchasers if service and follow-up activities can improve their attitudes toward you and your company.

Follow-up activities vary substantially by industry and product. At one extreme, it is unlikely that a Scout selling raffle tickets house to house during his annual fundraising will make any follow-up calls during the year. On the other hand, a retail merchant buying household products for re-sale may require regular assistance from their supplier such as inventory maintenance, merchandise displays, and co-operative advertising programmes that can be part of the follow-up. Even the Scout group will need to deliver the prizes and should publish a list of winners.

Ideas for Follow-up

Thank you communication

You are far more likely to get repeat orders if you develop an amicable relationship with your customers. Any activity that helps to cement this relationship, from a simple ‘thank you’ to hand delivering a substantial order, can benefit both you and your customer. A simple goodwill builder, but one far too frequently overlooked, is sending a thank you letter, card, or email soon after a sales call has been made.

You can develop a few formats and then modify to suit each specific customer and specific occasions such as moving to new premises, or even more personal such as birthdays or recovering from accident/illness. The cost and the time expended are minimal compared to the goodwill that a ‘thank you’ can create.

After-Sales Service & Assistance

Even if the product is not delivered in person, a telephone call or an in-person visit may enable you to help your customer with the proper use of your products. Customers who do not know how to use a purchase may blame you or the product for their frustrations and problems. Besides instructing your customers on the proper use of your products, you may also be able to point out additional uses for the items. Sometimes there may be minor repairs or adjustments resulting from faulty installation that you can correct or arrange service for. In some cases, you may create goodwill just by checking with customers to make certain that their orders were fulfilled and delivered as directed on purchase orders. You might find some of these suggestions regarding follow-up activities useful:

  • Make a follow-up ‘goodwill building’ visit to your customers within a week after delivery of the product to make certain that the order was fulfilled properly.
  • Make certain that the product is satisfactory and is being used properly.
  • Offer suggestions to the customer on ways to make more effective or additional use of the product.
  • Use the follow-up visit as an opportunity to obtain new prospects i.e. ask for referrals.
  • Handle any complaints or misunderstandings as soon as possible and with a positive and courteous attitude.

When you make in-person follow up visits, be sure they are not ‘waste-of-time calls’. Before making the call, ask yourself ‘How is my customer likely to benefit from this call? What do I want to achieve?’

Personal delivery

In some instances, you might be able to develop more satisfied customers by delivering your product in person. For example, life insurance agents frequently deliver policies in-person as soon as the contract is prepared and returned from head office. Five major reasons for this type of in-person delivery are:

  • To review the features of the policy
  • To reassure the client that a wise purchase was made
  • To remind the client when the next premium is due in order to make the sale stay solid
  • To promote the sale of additional life insurance in the future
  • To solicit referred leads.

There is a double reason for after-sale selling. Firstly, the existing buyer is, and always has been, a great referral source. Secondly, some sort of professional friendship is developed which can be a future useful testimonial to a new prospective customer.

Goodwill

Goodwill is a factor related to customer attitudes and sentiments toward you and your company. The loss of goodwill is, in effect, the loss of sales. Goodwill building is not automatic. It requires a deliberate, conscientious, and sincere concern about customer interests and needs over extended periods of time. Virtually every step in the selling process has an influence on goodwill.

Goodwill is not concrete – you cannot put your finger on it or measure it accurately in currency. Nevertheless, goodwill is of significant value since it helps the salesperson in making initial and repeat sales. Furthermore, customers with favourable attitudes towards your company and its products are also excellent sources of referral business.

Keeping Customers Satisfied and Staying Competitive

Getting a prospect to place an order and become a customer is long and arduous. Although the search for prospects to turn into new customers never stops, you should also never stop building good relationships with your present customers. They deserve your follow-up so that they will receive the products or services ordered. A commitment to service is required to keep your present customers buying from you. It is service that builds goodwill. In competitive markets it is not products that are different; it is the after sales service provided that makes the difference.

The Importance of Developing Enthusiastic Customers

Enthusiastic customers are one of your best sources of prospects because they are excited about what they buy and want to share that excitement with others. Because of our natural reserve, that is not something we do lightly, so we always take notice if a colleague or friend speaks highly of a company.

If you deliver what customers want at a fair price, without any problems, they are should be satisfied. Although that is better than being dissatisfied, you need more than this to ensure keeping the customer and increasing sales. You have to develop customer enthusiasm about your products and services. You must deliver more than the customer expects. This breeds enthusiasm, which produces a climate that ensures loyalty and increased sales and recommendations to others. Here are some suggestions for producing and maintaining enthusiastic customers:

  1. Keep in touch: check after delivery to see that things are going well. Check again later and ask for leads on new prospects.
  2. Handle any complaints promptly: problems are inevitable. Do not ignore them. They grow with neglect. Do more than the customer expects in satisfying the complaint.
  3. Be a friend: think of the customer as a friend and do things for them accordingly. Send birthday cards or postcards while you are on holidays. Congratulate him or her on awards or advancement.
  4. Give praise when it is due: look for things for which you can give legitimate praise: something the firm has done awards, increased earnings, and a big order. Congratulate the customer personally for awards, election to an office, and honours. Customers appreciate attention too.
  5. Send prospects to your customers: if your customers are in business, send leads or refer prospects to them. It is human nature to respond in kind to anyone who does us a favour.

The Competition

Learn as much as you can about the competition’s products and services. Study how they bring their products to market, their policies, their pricing levels or strategies, the markets they serve, and their customers. Use this information to carry out a SWOT Analysis described elsewhere in this book.

List the strong selling points of your competitors and next to each list a similar or better customer benefit from your own product or service. Don’t assume that every prospect or customer of yours knows your competitors’ strong points. Emphasise your own customer benefits during the sales call. Don’t mention, or sell, your competitors.

Analyse why prospects or customers are buying from competitors and prepare a detailed plan to convince them that they should be buying from you.

Continually review and reinforce the reasons why your customers are doing business with you.

Continually strive to build a close relationship with your customers so they can be more dependent on you.

Earn the right to ask for more orders based on your commitment to service. Remember: your best customers are probably your competitors’ best prospects. Keep working to keep them satisfied and buying from you.

A competitor’s customers are loyal and satisfied because the products or services they receive fit their organisation and requirements now. These conditions can and do change so customer satisfaction is relative.

Becoming a Preferred Supplier

When competing against established suppliers, you may first have to get on the list of acceptable suppliers. To do so this you must create awareness and then an interest and desire for your products or services.

Consider sending copies of advertisements, newspaper articles, or trade journal reports in which you and/ or your company appears, to your customer. Use testimonial letters and recommendations. This will alert your customer to your acceptance by other companies in the same or similar activities.

Invite members of the customer’s firm to visit your plant, your headquarters, your offices, customer installations, or trade shows.

Suggest that their present suppliers are quoting a fair price; however, with new products and services continually being introduced, inflation, improved efficiency, higher productivity, maybe you can do better.

Ask for a copy of their bid specifications and requirements so you can prepare a proposal and quotation for their review and evaluation.

Suggest that they can determine whether or not what you have proposed will give them more value for money. Offer them:

  • trial orders
  • sample equipment
  • thirty day service evaluation period
  • money back guarantees

These are all part of what it may take for you to become an acceptable supplier. Your creativity as a sales professional will be really challenged by thinking of ways and means to become an acceptable supplier to prospects that are apparently satisfied by their present suppliers.

Complaints

‘We don’t have problems, we have opportunities.’ A cliché, but very true in the case of complaints. It has been estimated that only one in twenty customers complain when they get bad service. The vast majority just go elsewhere! Worse still, the average person tells nine people about the bad service they received. They tell everyone but you. A complaint is an opportunity in identifying ways of improving your services and hence the goodwill of your customers.

Most of us do not like criticism. Therefore, when people complain to us, whether it is face to face or not we try to defend ourselves. Even if the complaint is directed personally towards us, which it rarely is. In doing so we sometimes resort to attack, only making the situation worse.

The best way to deal with complaints is to: –

  • Acknowledge the complaint
  • Listen carefully for information
  • Do not defend or excuse
  • Empathise with the caller
  • Promise to put investigate it
  • Promise to call back is necessary and do so

All the customer wants to know is: –

  1. That you fully understand their problem
  2. What you are going to do about it

If you deal with people in this way, there is no reason why every communication of this kind should not result in both parties being satisfied.

This positive result is not necessarily dependent upon the issue being fully resolved it is dependent upon responsive and responsible communication.

Remember, when a customer complains, they are giving you a second chance to put it right

When the complaint is received over the telephone:

  • Note down the facts.
  • Summarise your understanding of the facts back to the customer to ensure clarity.
  • Phone the customer back when you said you would.
  • If you have not solved the problem by this time, give a progress report.

Agree a common method for handling complaints in your organisation. Include procedures for complaints that are face to face, by ‘phone and by letter/email. Draw up a complaints form. It should include:

  • Date and time received.
  • Who received it?
  • Department.
  • The details of the customer: name address, telephone number. Make sure that it meets data protection standards on keeping the information (every organisation should have this as a written procedure and ensure that everyone is aware of this).
  • Complaint details.
  • The nature of the complaint.
  • Action to be taken and deadline.
  • Sign off when dealt with, and where appropriate signature of line manager.
  • Build into the process a method for building customer relationships by getting in touch with the customer two weeks after the complaint has been dealt with to confirm that the complaint was dealt with satisfactorily.

Staff need to ensure that they:

  • Don’t take complaints personally or be defensive; this isn’t an attack on their competence.
  • Take responsibility and ownership on behalf of the organisation and explain to the customer that they will do their best to sort it out.
  • understand that bad news spreads
  • don’t get drawn into an argument
  • remain calm and professional

The rule for complaints
A complaint is a customer communicating their dissatisfaction at the service or product that we have provided, it is an important message that tells us where we are going wrong and gives us vital information about our customer’s wants, needs and expectations. You can’t buy this information!

Regaining Lost Customers

All organisations lose customers, some for very genuine reasons such as relocation or closure. Sometimes though, they go either because we do something wrong or a competitor makes a better offer. After losing a customer to a competitor ask yourself:

  • ‘What can I do to get this customer back’?
  • ‘What has to be done to assure myself I do not lose more customers for similar reasons’?

Prepare a list of all the things that could have gone wrong with the account. Next, set up a convenient meeting with your former customer for a frank discussion so you can clarify the position. Consider key areas such as price, delivery, proper handling of warranties or guarantees, and service calls

Say that although you’ve lost this particular piece of business, it is your intention to win it back in the future. You want to gain their support in helping you to identify what went wrong by discussing the problems. Consider the following:

  • Have you kept them abreast of all your new products or services?
  • Have you kept them abreast of important price, personnel or policy changes?
  • Have you visited them on a frequency appropriate for their business activity?
  • Have you considered all the ways of helping them improve their businesses by emphasising products and services that would help them in the marketplace?

Singapore Airlines Flies High Thanks to Its Customer Service Culture

As a professional speaker, I often share stories and examples of companies that deliver great service. One company that’s easy to talk about is Singapore Airlines. It has developed a tremendous customer service culture.

Profitable every year since the beginning, Singapore Airlines (SIA) frequently wins international awards for top service and in-flight quality. Here’s how they do it:

1. Clarity and Commitment.
SIA’s focus on its customer service culture is clear. The mission statement and core values establish, without question, that quality service is a fundamental objective and aspiration of the airline.
Every major issue, question or decision is considered in light of the commitment to providing a world-class customer service culture.

2. Continuous Training.
Training is not a one-time affair in this customer service culture. SIA understands that daily customer contact can be draining and that customer expectations are always on the rise.

To meet this challenge, four training divisions within the company (Cabin Crew, Flight Operations, Commercial and Management Development) offer a wide range of educational programs to bolster the customer service culture.

Whether in the classroom, through full-scale simulations or on the job, SIA staff members are continually motivated to upgrade, uplift and improve their performance and uphold the customer service culture.

Training to build the customer service culture is not conducted just during robust economic times. Even during the downturns, SIA’s investment in training and building its customer service culture goes on. This gives the airline a twofold advantage.

First, it allows SIA to surge ahead in quality service when other carriers cut back. Second, it demonstrates to all SIA staff that continuous learning and improvement are essential principles for success, not just nice-to-have bonuses.

3. Career Development.
SIA staff are regularly appraised for performance and potential. High-flyers (high performance and potential) are identified early and given every opportunity to learn and grow within the company’s customer service culture.

Senior managers are effectively developed with frequent rotation through top positions in the company. This leads to a management team with great breadth and depth, with a shared understanding of “the big picture,” and with a commitment to do what’s best for the customers and the business, not just for one department or another.

4. Internal Communication.
SIA is a large organization, with more than 28,000 staff (including subsidiaries) located around the world. People from different cultures work together to produce a seamless and consistently positive customer experience. In the pilot pool alone more than 25 countries are represented!

To keep everyone on the same wavelength and bolster the customer service culture, SIA publishes a variety of department newsletters, websites and a monthly company-wide magazine.

Regular dialogue sessions between management and staff keep communication flowing. A program called “Staff Ideas in Action” ensures that new suggestions for improvement are constantly put forward to build the customer service culture. Semi-annual business meetings provide another forum for sharing and evaluating results in sales, marketing, yields and customer satisfaction levels in this customer service culture.

5. Consistent External Communication.
Whether their advertisement is about new destinations, new airplanes, onboard cuisine, or new seats and entertainment services, the legendary “SIA Girl” is always featured.

Why? Because the bottom line for SIA is not the plane, seat, entertainment or destination. The bottom line is delivering high-quality service, and the “SIA Girl” is the brand identity, the personification of that service and the company’s customer service culture.

Of course everyone knows it takes the entire SIA team to deliver excellent service, but showing a picture of a smiling engineer, a competent pilot or a friendly telephone reservations agent would not carry the same consistency in external communication: The “SIA Girl” represents impeccable quality service and is the face of the company’s customer service culture. In the airline’s external communication, she is always there.

6. Connection with Customers.
SIA makes a concerted effort to stay in touch with customers through in-flight surveys, customer focus groups and rapid replies to every compliment or complaint they receive. SIA then consolidates this input with other key data to create a quarterly “Service Performance Index” that is very closely watched throughout the airline.

Frequent flyers are kept well-connected with special messages, attractive offers and publications sent regularly to Priority Passenger Service (PPS) members. And very frequent flyers achieve an elite “Solitaire” status with a wide range of valuable privileges: most convenient check-in, additional baggage allowance, priority seating and wait listing, and more. (I am one of those very frequent flyers, and I enjoy it!)

7. Benchmarking.
The airline industry is intensely competitive with every carrier seeking new ways to “get ahead of the pack.” SIA tracks competitors’ progress closely. Even outside the airline industry, SIA looks for new ways to improve and grow its customer service culture. When hotels, banks, restaurants, retail outlets and other service industries take a step forward in their amenities, convenience or comfort, SIA watches closely to see what can be adopted or adapted for the airline industry.

8. Improvement, Investment and Innovation.
From the earliest days, SIA has built a solid reputation for taking the lead and doing things differently, introducing free drinks and headsets, fax machines onboard, individual video screens and telephones in every seat, cutting-edge gaming and in-flight entertainment, “book the cook” service for special meals in First and Business Class, telephone, fax, e-mail and internet check-in, innovative cargo facilities – the list goes on and on.

This commitment to continuous improvement is coupled with a cultural determination to try it out, make it work and see it through. Not every innovation succeeds and some are eventually removed from service (the fax machines are long gone), but SIA makes every possible effort to find the key to success – or to create it through the customer service culture it has created.
9. Rewards and Recognition.

While excellent staff performance is rewarded with increased pay and positions, the most prestigious award is reserved for truly superior service.

The “CEO’s Transforming Customer Service Award” is given annually to teams and individuals who respond to unique customer situations with exceptionally positive, innovative or selfless acts of service. This award carries no financial benefit, but it is the most revered accolade in the airline. Winners and their families are flown to Singapore for a special dinner celebration, the story of their efforts is published in the monthly magazine, and their personal status as a “Managing Director’s Award Winner” remains a badge of distinction for life, which further builds the company’s customer service culture.

10. Professionalism, Pride and Profits.
The result of these efforts is a customer service culture that is vigorously committed to customers and continuous improvement.

Staff pride and sense of ownership are evident in the way they protect the airline’s reputation and participate in programs like the “aircraft adoption” scheme.

Good profits are also achieved, but not as an end in themselves. Rather, SIA’s profits are “the applause we receive for providing consistent quality and service to our customers.”

Does all this mean that SIA is perfect? Of course not. Even SIA cannot satisfy every customer every time. Bags go astray, telephone lines become congested, and meals at 39,000 feet are not always perfectly deluxe. There will always be room for improvement, even in the best customer service culture.

With a track record of success, SIA must work doubly hard to avoid becoming complacent and losing sight of its commitment to a positive customer service culture. Managers must be open to change and not become arrogant or defensive. Staff must be proud of the airline yet remain eager for passenger suggestions, recommendations and constructive criticism to constantly build the customer service culture.

The definition of a truly loyal airline customer is someone who is pleased with the service, flies with the airline again, recommends the airline to others and takes the time and effort to point out ways the airline can still improve.

I look forward to my flights on SIA and I use the carrier two or three times each month. My speeches and training programs are peppered with positive stories from the airline’s history and lore. And my mail to SIA includes plenty of ideas and suggestions to help them improve and further build their positive customer service culture.

Singapore Airlines has earned my loyalty on the ground and in the sky. They’ve got a great way to fly – and to run a highly successful business with a fantastic customer service culture.