Have you ever had an unpleasant experience related to customer service, perhaps at a home improvement store or with your local cable company? How did that experience affect your overall impression of the company? Were you encouraged to take your business elsewhere?
As a consumer during hard economic times, you want to spend your money where you feel valued. You want to interact with associates who are friendly, knowledgeable about their business and who want to help you. Unfortunately, many companies today have allowed their customer service to become nearly extinct. Furthermore, they have failed to provide recognition to their employees for a job well done. Businesses once understood that by valuing all employees that company’s success would continue.
Employees felt responsibility for their actions because they felt respect, value, and self-worth. The businesses strived for continuous improvement. Employees were loyal to these companies and retired with them. In recent times, employees feel less and less appreciated.
They don’t feel important to their employers. As a result, they have made a conscious decision to stop caring about elements such as customer service. Workers have lost faith that they will be able to climb the professional ladder, leaving almost zero incentive to stay with the same company.
Instead, employees move up in their career by increasingly changing jobs and switching companies. Everyone is negatively affected by this cycle. In lieu of progressing, businesses resemble a wheel spinning in mud. Companies receive mediocre staff support, employees give poor customer service, clients purchase less, businesses see reduced profits, and employees get hit with layoffs, pay cuts, and poor benefits.
The customer service aspect of these companies has seen the most drastic decline. It has been carelessly devalued. Contrary to popular belief, customer service is not just about solving problems. It is about being the “face of the company.”
Managers have further endangered the myth of customer service by outsourcing client support to low-cost countries. They have eliminated receptionists and replaced them with recordings. They have almost entirely erased the need for training.
Finally, to show efforts that they still care about their customer service performance, the same businesses continue to send out surveys. Many clients not only consider the surveys annoying, but the company fails to make them worthwhile by ignoring complaints. All of this is done in an effort to save money.
Businesses today must change this mindset if they want to grow their business successfully. In my book titled “Great Customer Service: The Definitive Handbook for Today’s Successful Businesses” and co-authored by Dr. Green, I focus on five key characteristics that together lead to good customer service. Those characteristics are attitude, awareness, accountability, action and affability (friendliness).
For a company to improve their customer service they must accept change. Change begins with the right attitude. Before a company can change their customer service, they must establish a mission to provide quality service. Furthermore, the company should be aware of the current state of the service they provide.
Change cannot be made without understanding the situation at hand. A business may question, has there been a noticeable decline in sales? If so, could it be a result of the customer service?
The best way to kick-start change is to hold employees and managers accountable. Without effectively maintaining accountability for everyone involved, people will not see a reason to change their behavior and the business will suffer. Holding personnel accountable is the first part of taking action. Unless a company makes a conscious decision to actively improve, change will be temporary or non-existent.
Finally, the last characteristic is affability. It seems like a minor detail, but consider some of your past consumer experiences? There were probably a few instances where an employee helped you in an “I have to” way, and there were times where you were helped in an “I want to” way. The latter is much better.
Throughout the book, I also focus on how to build a more profitable business, how to increase good sustainable customer service, how to inspire workers toward greater organizational performance, and how to inspire today’s demanding customers.
While I could continue on about how these five characteristics impact the other topics covered in my book, I would rather hear from you. As consumers, professionals and MBA students, use what you have experienced and learned to explain how you believe these characteristics impact profitability, sustainability, performance and inspiration. There are no perfect answers. Good customer service is not necessarily cut and dry, it is all in the eye of the beholder!
Please share your thoughts on this topic.
About the Guest Blogger
Jalene Nemec, MBA, is the author of the upcoming book, Great Customer Service. She is also one of the brightest business thinkers in the world, having both extensive customer service and leadership experience. She is a former Lincoln Memorial University MBA graduate.