Focus on Your Customer - March 2003

More Than Being Nice
Customer Service is a Contact Sport™

By Joseph Rosales

I find it interesting that customer service is so difficult to define. It certainly has different meanings for different people. In fact, its meaning changes from customer to customer and from day to day. For example, if I am in your facility today and in a hurry, time will be of the essence. If I am to perceive great customer service, the time it takes to provide the service will be an important factor. However, if I am in your facility the following day and not in a hurry, then time is less important to me. Although we may only be talking about a few minutes here or there, it can seem like much more when a customer is pressed for time. While time is almost always an issue in the customer service equation, it is only one of several components you will need to address in your quest to provide exceptional customer service.

INTERVIEW AND PRESENT

Generally, most people will say good customer service is simply meeting the customer's needs. If a customer comes to you to inquire about a service on his or her car, answering the customer's primary question is just the beginning. There are qualifying questions you could ask the customer about the needed service. This would help provide you with information, which would allow you to present other services the customer may need. How you plan your inquiry or interview and how you present to the customer is very important if the customer is to perceive the interaction as more than a sales pitch.

QUALITY OF PRODUCT

Winning a customer's repeat business is often not based entirely on the quality of the product purchased or the convenience of the service provided. Of course, meeting a customer's expectations for quality products and prompt service is a prerequisite to great customer service. Customers rightfully expect that the product and services you provide will meet their needs. However, when you impress them with great service, you establish a standard most other businesses will rarely attain. Great customer service should be a foundational aspect of your business model. Every member of your staff should understand he or she is responsible for developing and maintaining customer relationships. Remember that the most productive use of your time related to business development is making contact and talking to your customers.

A SHORT STORY

Recently, while I was out of town on business, I went shopping in an office supply store and asked an employee where I might find a certain item. Instead of simply telling me the aisle number and pointing in the general direction of the item, he stopped what he was doing and promptly walked me to the precise location of the item. On the way, he asked me a few qualifying questions to make sure he knew what I was looking for. He assisted me in selecting the best item for my purpose. Once my selection was made, he inquired as to any other items I might need to purchase. As I needed nothing else, he asked me if I was ready to check out.

At the checkout counter, he made it a point to make me feel as though he was interested in me as a customer. He conversed with me in a casual and respectful manner. I noticed from his name tag that he was the store manager and commented how impressed I was that he would take the time to help me personally instead of calling for one of his employees to take care of me. His response was consistent with his customer service demeanor: "I would rather be on the sales floor making contact with customers, having fun, and assuring everyone is being properly attended to than to be in the office doing paperwork. I can have others do the paperwork, but the most important part of my job is assuring customer service remains our highest priority."

Needless to say I was impressed. This is a manager who truly understands the importance of customer service and being a positive example to his employees. If I lived in that marketplace, I would go out of my way to shop at this business.

One of the most important steps you can take towards delivering a high level of service with virtually every customer, is to make sure that your staff understands the how's and why's of excellent customer service, and that everyone is committed to delivering exceptional service - every day! One of the easiest ways to do that is to first be an example to your staff and demonstrate what exceptional customer service looks like. Then require that your staff do what you do, each in keeping with his or her individual personality.

Joseph Rosales is president of Customer Service Solutions Inc., a company that specializes in helping to improve customer service through improved systems and enhanced employee performance. Joseph's new book, Customer Service is a Contact Sport(tm), is due to be released in April 2003. For more information, visit the company's web site at performancepros.com,
or call (800) 268-9899.

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