A superior customer service experience is a competitive advantage that’s available to any business willing to do the work. In the face of the current disruptions, here are some improvements you can be working on this summer even as the world unravels outside. (These are the same improvements I would be assisting you with myself as a customer service consultant–but if that’s not in the cards this summer, see how far you can get on your own with these five customer service improvement strategies!)
1. Implement a framework for customer service recovery. If your company is serious about great customer service, you need this in your arsenal: a predetermined framework for how employees should go about taking care of an upset, frustrated or disappointed customer. It’s essential to get such a framework in place ahead of time because there’s nothing more stressful than to be ad libbing entirely from scratch when an angry customer is breathing down your neck or shooting daggers through the phone line.
If you don’t already have a service recovery framework in place I’m happy to offer you to use my four-step MAMA Method. Please send an email to [email protected] and I’ll hook you up.
2. Assess your company culture via the Solomon Service Culture Matrix.™
My definition of customer service culture—the practical, working definition I use on the job site—has two primary elements:
1. The way your company treats its customers.
2. The way your company treats the people whose job it is to take care of these customers: employees, as well as vendors and subcontractors.
The fundamental complication with this two-part definition is that there may not be an all-the-time way that you treat your customers or an all-the-time way that you treat employees, vendors, and subcontractors. So, to get the full measure of a culture, we’ll need to subdivide items 1 and 2 and look separately at:
• How you treat your customers, employees, vendors, and subcontractors on a normal, stress-free day (when money is flowing, nobody’s called in sick, you’ve got your “A team” working, and
• How you treat these entities when you are under stress (in the face of tight resources, hurricanes or other freakish weather on the horizon, demanding customers, intensive shareholder demands, difficult personal times for yourselves as employees and leaders, and so forth).
The goal is to just as well for both sets of constituents and both types of situations. In other words, the treatment in all four boxes of the matrix below should ideally be equally positive.
How does your company’s culture stack up? For example, do your customers sing your praises but your vendors curse your name? Do you treat customers well when the line is short and blow up at them when it’s long? And so forth. This is important to assess–and once you know the answer, to take action to address.
For a printable copy of the Solomon Service Culture Matrix™, please email [email protected] and I’ll send one your way.
3. Develop an actionable set of customer service standards.
Following or concurrent with your review of your performance in all four quadrants of the Solomon Service Culture Matrix, it’s important to develop a solid set of customer service standards for a variety of situations. I would suggest create a standards document for:
• Telephone interactions
• Digital communication such as email, live chat, and text
• In-person interactions within the office or at your facility
4. Revamp your commitment to talent management.
• Revamp your selection criteria for new employees to focus on the personality traits that are useful for customer-facing work. (For more on employee selection/ hiring for customer-focused work, check out my Forbes article here.)
• Revamp your onboarding to stress your customer service philosophy rather than to drown new employees in legalese and warnings.
• Make sure you engage in frequent, regularly scheduled meetings to both evaluate and converse with employees about how best you can advance the employee’s own professional goals and how they can assist in advancing the goals of the company. (For more on talent management, check out my Forbes article here.)
5. Undertake a program of customized customer service training.
Your standards documents, self-assessment, and service recovery framework can all be rolled into a customized customer service training program, which can be delivered either digitally or onsite, depending on your corporate needs and what safety and logistical requirements dictate. Any such training program should ideally be coupled with a sustainability component, such as the Ritz-Carlton’s famous daily lineup.