Despite the public relations hoopla surrounding customer service today, exemplary service seems to be more the exception than the rule.
Slick ad campaigns and lofty corporate mission statements are often disconnected from the realities of day-to-day customer experiences.
The fact is, regardless of the title held, every employee is selling or unselling the company every hour of the day.
The current competitive business climate requires customer-service representatives to acquire and utilize the most professional people skills available. Their goal must be to effectively differentiate themselves -- and by extension, the company they represent -- in an otherwise crowded and indifferent world.
Study after study reveals three critical findings every employee, especially those interacting with customers, must consider:
First - it costs, on average, six to 10 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.
Second - existing customers account for a majority of sales.
Third - referral business generated from satisfied customers is substantial.
The financial benefits of caring for existing customers should be clear.
If the customer is king, then it stands to reason that the second-most important person in the kingdom must be the person who has a direct interaction on a daily basis with the king. No other position impacts the customer, or the bottom line, more.
Regardless of the position you hold at your company, it's the customer who writes your paycheck.
The following are seven ways to improve your people skills and deliver exceptional customer service:
- Understand there is no average customer.
Each customer is special and wants to feel he or she is the center of your universe. I believe it is the heart's desire of every person to be truly listened to. There is nothing more profound you can do to make someone feel valued than to listen to them. Furthermore, your customer shouldn't have to repeat herself. Listen carefully, making note of what she's saying, then respond to her feelings with a phrase like, "I understand" to show you're actively listening. It may sound strange, but learn to value your customers who complain. A complaint is really just an opportunity to turn a problem into a sale.
- Make their experience special -- thrill them.
A thrilled customer is one who will not only be a source of repeat business but is also likely to refer friends. Thrill your customers by making it clear you are focused on their complete satisfaction. Show respect for your customers as well as concern for their needs. Pay them compliments when appropriate. Answer questions thoroughly and to their satisfaction.
- If your customer has a problem -- take care of it.
Strike phrases like "it is not company policy" or "that is not my department" from your vocabulary. In each interaction with a customer you represent your entire company. Therefore, you can't assign blame or shift responsibility to another department. It is a natural human response to ignore the problem, duck the issue or even argue with the customer. Learn to overcome these knee-jerk reactions. Be a professional by stepping up to the plate and taking action to solve the problem, regardless of its origin. Remember that when you represent the whole company, it's not them who screwed up, it's us. Choose to look at your customers' problem as an opportunity. If you respond to it in a way that makes them happy, you will preserve the relationship and secure repeat business for the company.
- Guarantee your customers' complete satisfaction by responding quickly and efficiently to their requests.
Clarify details, asking the right questions to ensure your customers have the information they needs. Strive to meet or exceed their expectations by inquiring whether anything else can be done to keep the customer happy.
- Trust them and they'll trust you.
Many customers approach a customer-service representative with the question in mind, "Can I trust you?" I'm sure we've all had experiences with representatives who questioned the validity of our claim, told us we were wrong or assured us they would solve our problem only to never follow through. The fastest way to unsell the company is to break your customers' trust. Instead, show them you're a person of integrity. Convey your sincere desire to help and then do exactly what you promised.
- Show them you care.
Have you ever had someone in customer service tell you, "There is nothing I can do"? There is arguably no more infuriating phrase in the English language. It clearly communicates that no one cares about your needs or has any intention of solving your problem. In striving to provide excellent customer service, there is always something you can do. Admittedly, some problems can be tricky or difficult. In that case, use the resources available to you to ask for or research ideas. Be creative and flexible. Suggest alternative solutions to your customer. Even after the problem is solved, show your customer you care by asking, "What else can I do for you?" You never know what other concerns they may have or what loose ends may need to be tied up.
- Walk the talk.
If you said you would do something, follow through and complete it. If you handed the customer off to another department, take the initiative to contact him or her and check in to make sure the problem was addressed and solved. Your customers will believe you care and come to trust you when your actions show them the kind of professional you really are.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.