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Customer Communication: Face-to-Face, Email, or Text?

Effective customer communication depends not only on what to say, but also which communication channels to use with customers.

Last week, we addressed customer communication, and, while doing so, we identified the three primary channels of communication that businesses and organizations use to communicate with customers:

  • the visual channel, which refers to our body language, such as facial expressions and hand gestures;
  • the tone channel, which refers to the manner in which we communicate, such as volume and intonation; and
  • the verbal channel, which refers to the specific words and phrases we use.

While the first two channels are “non-verbal,” the last channel is “verbal.”

Most importantly, we observed that as the number of channels we use to communicate with customers decreases, the risk of miscommunication increases. Accordingly, while face-to-face communication poses the lowest risk of miscommunication, email, text, and social media communication present the greatest risk of miscommunication.

However, this doesn’t mean that your business should always communicate with customers face-to-face, nor does this mean that your organization should never communicate with customers through email, text, or social media.

Which communication strategies should your business or organization use for customer communication? Consider these practical strategies.

Use face-to-face communication to:

  • Build relationships with customers. How often does your business connect with its customers just to talk – that is, not to sell or “upsell” anything, but just to learn more about them, both on a professional and personal level? Indeed, having coffee or lunch with customers presents an excellent opportunity for long-term relationship building.

Use face-to-face or telephone communication to:

  • Tell a customer “no.” Because telling a customer “no” is emotional in nature, your business should, at the very least, use the telephone. This provides your organization with the ability to control the “tone” of the conversation.
  • Deliver “bad news” to a customer. For the same reason, anytime your business needs to deliver “bad news” to a customer – for example, informing a customer about a late delivery or a cancelled appointment – your organization should, at the very least, use the telephone.

Use email communication to:

  • Tell a customer “yes” or “maybe.” Because delivering good news (saying “yes”) or “buying some time” to make a decision (saying “maybe”) is not inherently negative, email doesn’t present as much risk of miscommunication. Therefore, your business can use email to say “yes” or “maybe” to a customer.
  • Deliver non-emotionally charged information. What if a customer wants an invoice history from your business? Yes, email is an appropriate channel to communicate this information. Because this type of information poses a minimal risk of miscommunication, your organization can use email in this situation.
  • Confirm or document a telephone call. Your business can use email to confirm or document a telephone call, provided that if the communication involved telling a customer “no” or delivering a customer “bad news,” your organization first did so through face-to-face or telephone communication.

(Credit to Tim Sanders: Rule 1: No Bad News Over Email).

Use text communication to:

  • Remind customers about appointments. Texting reminders to customers is not only appropriate, but is also a customer expectation. Indeed, texting appointment reminders to your customers can save your business or organization both time and money.

Use social media communication to:

  • Share positive reviews or customer compliments. When a customer uses social media to compliment your business or to provide a positive review of your organization, use social media to share that compliment or positive review. Never underestimate the power of positive social media.

This week, take a moment to reevaluate your customer communication strategies to ensure that your business or organization selects the most appropriate communication channel to communicate with its customers.

Next week, we’ll address what your business or organization should do when a customer uses social media to complain online about your business or organization.

In the meantime, have a “customerific” week!

Mark

Communicating with Customers: The Fundamentals

In order to provide exceptional customer service, your business or organization should understand these fundamental concepts when communicating with customers.

Businesses and organizations use a variety of methods when communicating with customers: face-to-face, video conference, telephone, email, texting, and social media. Many of these methods – especially video, email, texting, and social media – leverage technology.

But which method is the best? In other words, within the context of providing exceptional customer service, which method(s) should businesses and organizations use to communicate with customers?

Not surprisingly, the answer is “it depends.”

Before we analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each communication method, let’s first review communication in general. When we communicate with others, we use up to three communication “channels”:

  • the visual channel, which refers to our body language, such as facial expressions and hand gestures;
  • the tone channel, which refers to the manner in which we communicate, such as volume and intonation; and
  • the verbal channel, which refers to the specific words and phrases we use.

While the first two channels are “non-verbal,” the last channel is “verbal.”

You’ve probably heard that communication is primarily non-verbal in nature, that is, body language and tone. This doesn’t mean that verbal communication is unimportant; rather, it means that when there is a perceived conflict between non-verbal channels and verbal channels of communication, we favor the non-verbal channels to decipher communication – especially as it relates to intent and meaning.

Think of it this way. Assume your significant other asks you about his or her recent haircut. You say, “It looks great!” If you rolled your eyes and said “It looks great!” in a sarcastic tone, there is a perceived conflict between your verbal channel (“It looks great!”) and your non-verbal channels (rolling your eyes and conveying a sarcastic tone): even though you said “It looks great!,” your body language and tone convey the opposite meaning (“It looks horrible!”). Accordingly, your significant other will likely conclude that you didn’t actually mean what you said. Moreover, he or she might also conclude that you’re disingenuous or even dishonest.

And the risk of unintentionally creating a perceived conflict in communication increases as the number of channels we use to communicate with customers decreases. In other words, the fewer number of channels we use to communicate with customers, the more likely customers might misinterpret – that is, perceive an apparent conflict in – our communication.

Consider the following, which identifies each communication method, the associated number of communication channels, and the accompanying level of risk of misinterpretation.

Communication Method
# Communication Channels
Risk Level
Face-to-Face 3 Channels:
Visual, Tone, & Verbal
Low
Telephone 2 Channels:
Tone & Verbal
Medium
Email 1 Channel:
Only Verbal
High
Social Media 1 Channel:
Only Verbal
High
Texting 1 Channel:
Only Verbal
High

So, does this mean that businesses and organizations should communicate with customers only face-to-face? No, not at all.

Nor does this mean that businesses and organizations should never communicate with customers through email, social media, or texting.

Next week, we’ll analyze each method of communicating with customers and, specifically, the conditions under which your business or organization should – or should not – use a particular method to communicate with your customers.

In the meantime, have a “customerific” week!

Mark

Three Strategies to Minimize Customer Service Silos

Connecting, rather than demolishing, customer service silos is the key to strengthening your customer service culture, and here are three simple strategies that will work.

During my time as a community college administrator and as a peer reviewer with a regional higher education accreditation organization, a common theme among colleges involved “silos,” a phenomenon not confined to educational institutions. Indeed, silos – including customer service silos – are just as prevalent in businesses and other organizations, especially those that are medium- and large-sized.

What are silos? Silos occur when the units of a business or organization are disconnected from other units of the business or organization. For example, the “accounting department” is isolated from the “customer service department,” meaning that both the accounting department and the customer service department operate in their “own worlds.” Consequently, neither department genuinely understands what or even why the other department does: it’s all magic. Moreover, neither department meaningfully communicates with the other department, which only fortifies the silos.

It should be of no surprise that customer service silos negatively impact customer service. As Kenneth H. Blanchard observed, “Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job.” Simply put, silos hinder businesses and organizations from providing exceptional customer service.

That being said, rather than engaging in the unrealistic task of dismantling silos, businesses and organizations should instead focus their energy on connecting silos. Here are three simple strategies that will work.

Strategy #1: Create a universal purpose statement.

In a prior article, I shared Lee Cockerell’s strategy of creating a universal purpose statement that applies to each employee of a business or organization, regardless of the employee’s particular department. For example, Marriott’s purpose statement is “to be so nice to the guests that they can’t believe it,” while Disney’s purpose statement is “to be sure each guest has the most fabulous time of his or her life.” Because each employee is charged with advancing the same purpose statement, employees from different departments nevertheless share a common denominator that prioritizes customer service.

Strategy #2: Require cross-training experiences.

When I was an undergraduate college student, I worked at a cable company, which required new employees to spend time working with employees in other departments. For example, even though I was a dispatcher, I was required to spend time with an installer, a technician, a business department representative, and a front-line customer service representative. Likewise, a new employee – regardless of his or her department –  was required to spend time in dispatch.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the cross-training experiences strengthened each employee’s understanding of the how and why of every department’s functions.

Strategy #3: Emphasize “why” over “how.”

Speaking of why, in another prior article, I shared Daniel Pink’s suggestion to emphasize “why” over “how.” Recall Dan’s challenge: each week, replace two how conversations with two why conversations. In other words, hold two fewer conversations about how, and have two more conversations about why, i.e., “this is why we do this” instead of “this is how we do this.”

Within the context of customer service, understanding why a department does what it does is a particularly powerful strategy: whereas the how reveals the mere mechanics of a process, the why provides a deeper understanding of the process itself. Instead of employees telling customers “those are the rules,” employees can instead explain the purpose of those rules to customers. More importantly, if changes to particular processes are warranted, the why approach, when combined with an overarching purpose statement, reduces the risk of a department adopting a defensive stance in response to continuous quality improvement initiatives.

This week, conduct a quick assessment of the customer service silos in your business or organization by posing the following questions to employees in different departments:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What core processes do you believe Department X does?
  • Why does Department X do process Y?

By doing so, you’ll be able to determine the degree to which your the departments in your business or organization are disconnected from each other, and, even more importantly, you’ll be able to identify which of the above three strategies to focus on first.

As always, have a “customerific” week!

Mark

How not to Scare Away Customers this Halloween

Does your business or organization engage in any of these frightening customer service strategies that scare away customers?

Halloween is approaching, and we all know what that means: scary costumes, freaky jack-o’-lanterns, and haunted houses. Our local chamber is even sponsoring a “fright hike,” wherein brave individuals hike through the woods, at night, in our local state park to experience the thrill of being scared. Indeed, this is the chamber’s sixth year sponsoring the successful event, which is more popular – and more frightening – each year.

Now, it’s one thing to fork over some money to frighten the bejeezus out of yourself, but it’s another thing to scare away customers with poor customer service. Whereas frightening yourself costs you a few dollars, scaring away customers costs businesses a lot more: $62 billion dollars per year, according to a Forbes article.

So, in the spirit of Halloween, here’s a list of five poor customer service practices that are certain to scare away customers.

#1: Conveying a curt customer service attitude.

Think about how you would greet and interact with a long-lost friend you haven’t seen in ten years. Now, that’s how your business or organization should greet and interact with each and every customer – each and every time.

#2: Neglecting to timely respond (if at all) to customer inquiries.

A customer who leaves a message with your business or organization deserves a timely response. Simply put, there is absolutely no excuse – including the popular “Sorry, I’ve been crazy busy” – for not returning a customer’s telephone call or replying to a customer’s email.

#3: Failing to follow through with customers.

If you promise a customer that you will call him or her back, then your business or organization needs to fulfill its promise, without exception. Every. Single. Time.

#4: Requiring customers to jump through hoops.

A customer desires a solution, not the runaround. Instead of requiring a customer to expend his or her precious time to call another department, your business or organization should assume ownership of the issue and, accordingly, perform the behind-the-scenes work on behalf of the customer.

#5: Subjecting customers to frustrating phone trees.

A customer who calls your business or organization should always have an easy and readily accessible option to connect with a human as soon as possible. Always.

During your customer service meetings this week, why not use the Halloween season to focus on how not to scare away customers? After all, there are 62 billion reasons to do so.

In the meantime, have a scary-free “customerific” week!

Mark

Accountability in Customer Service: Three Examples

These three examples of accountability in customer service illustrate how to remain accountable to your external and internal customers.

An important goal of customer service is to be accountable to external customers, together with your internal customers, such as your fellow team members, including colleagues from other departments; if we find ourselves making excuses and “passing the buck” to others, we need to reexamine our behavior. After all, our customers and teammates rely us to resolve and follow through with customer service issues and complaints.

Thus, when we discuss accountability in customer service, we mean owning, and following through with, customer service issues, regardless of whether those customer service issues are “out of our control.” It also means making the customer experience as streamlined as possible.

This week, we want to share some common examples that illustrate accountability in customer service. Indeed, we encourage you to share these examples with your team and to incorporate them into your customer service training program.

Example 1: “That’s out of our control.”

Scenario: A customer who ordered your product didn’t receive the shipment because the package was delivered to the wrong address.

  • Not Accountable: “Sorry, that’s out of our control. We’ll have to ship you another one after we receive the return.”
  • Accountable: “I apologize for the delivery issue. Let me see what I can do to get another one to you right away. What is your telephone number so I can call you back?”

Accountable Solutions:  Consider (i) contacting the delivery company to ascertain the whereabouts of the package so that it can be delivered as soon as possible; (ii) determining whether a local representative in the customer’s region can custom deliver the package to the customer; or (iii) “comping” or discounting the invoice if the first two options are not possible.

Lesson: Accountability in customer service involves resolving issues, regardless of whether they are within our control. We should do whatever it takes to resolve a customer service issue, even if it means having to reach out to vendors and third parties.

Example 2: “You called the wrong department.”

Scenario: A customer who needs technical support calls your sales department instead.

  • Not Accountable: “Sorry, you’ll need to contact technical support. Here’s their number.”
  • Accountable: “I’m sorry for the issue you are experiencing. Let me get a technical support agent on the line so we can get this resolved.”

Accountable Solutions: Instead of requiring the customer to make another call and experience additional hold time, conference in a technical support agent. If a technical support agent is not available, obtain the telephone number and email address of the customer, and have the technical support agent call the customer as soon as he or she is available. Be sure to follow up with the customer to ensure that the technical support agent called him or her back and resolved the issue.

Lesson: Accountability in customer service involves owning and following through with customer service issues. From the perspective of the customer, the technical issue is the responsibility of your business itself, rather than a particular department or employee of your business.

Example 3: “Try using another browser.”

Scenario: A customer is unable to order a product because of an apparent browser compatibility issue.

  • Not Accountable: “Sorry, you’ll need to use another browser. Call us back if that doesn’t work.”
  • Accountable: “I’m sorry about this. Let me take your order over the phone.”

Accountable Solutions: Instead of requiring the customer to download and use another Internet browser, simply process the customer’s order over the phone (like in the “old days”).

Lesson: Accountability in customer service requires streamlining the sales process. From the perspective of the customer, a browser compatibility issue is your – not the customer’s – issue, which is especially true if the customer does not experience any browser compatibility issues with your competitor.

We’re hopeful that these three examples of accountability in customer service will help your team members remain accountable not only to their external customers, but also to each other.

As always, have a “customerific” – and accountable – week!

Mark

Customer Service Processes: Lowering the Hurdles

The goal of customer service processes is to enhance, not unreasonably burden, the delivery of exceptional customer service.

Last week, I shared Lee Cockerell’s “locked wine cabinet” story. You’ll recall that when Lee began managing a Marriott property in Springfield, a couple visited the restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. The couple ordered a bottle of wine and a lobster dinner. As Lee tells the story, “Soon the lobsters arrived, but still not the wine. By the time [the couple] could toast their marriage, all that remained on their plates were lobster shells.”

As we discovered last week, the wine arrived late because of a “process” — as opposed to a “people” — issue. The restaurant’s process required a server receiving a wine order to enter the transaction in the point-of-sale system, print the receipt, and locate the shift manager to unlock the wine cabinet and retrieve the bottle of wine. Notably, the shift manager was the only employee who possessed the key to the locked wine cabinet. That evening, the server couldn’t find the shift manager, who was working elsewhere on the property.

After learning about the restaurant’s wine-ordering process during a pre-shift meeting the next afternoon, Lee immediately modified the process. Before sharing Lee’s solution, let’s take a moment to briefly discuss the anatomy of typical customer service processes.

Most customer service processes attempt to “balance” customer service against competing interests. Common competing interests include protecting customer safety, complying with government regulations and industry standards, and minimizing employee theft.

The competing interest in the restaurant’s wine-ordering process was to prevent employee theft. Is preventing employee theft a legitimate competing interest? Absolutely. Businesses and organizations — including customer service powerhouses — possess the right to reduce the risk of internal theft. Accordingly, the restaurant was justified to include a “mechanism” deterring employee theft in its wine-ordering process.

But what happens when a “mechanism” — such as restricting access to a locked wine cabinet to a single restaurant employee — unreasonably burdens customer service? Is there a more narrowly tailored “mechanism” that could be used to reduce the risk of employee theft?

And that brings us to Lee’s solution. After learning about the restaurant’s wine-ordering process, Lee announced:

“From now on, when we open the restaurant each night, the manager will unlock the wine cabinet. When a guest orders a bottle of wine, the server will ring it up on the check, get the wine, and serve it. At the end of the night the manager will balance the wine cabinet stock with the wine orders and relock the cabinet. Also, the manager will from time to time, at random, ask to see the servers’ open checks. Serving wine to a guest before ringing it up will be considered a serious matter, and there will be consequences” (Cockerell, Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, p. 144).

Notice how Lee utilized a more narrowly tailored “mechanism” — specifically, having the shift manager conduct random audits of open checks — to reduce the risk of employee theft. Not surprisingly, after Lee modified the restaurant’s wine-ordering process, wine sales rose (customers tended to order two, not just one, bottles of wine); server tips increased; and customer complaints decreased.

If you haven’t done so already, please share the “locked wine cabinet” story with your team. Then, during your next employee or departmental retreat, consider focusing on these three tasks:

  • First, ensure that each of your customer service processes is regularly reviewed; that is, be sure that your business or organization has a systematic and formal process to review its customer service processes.
  • Second, when designing and reviewing customer service processes, tirelessly ask each other “What if?” — especially with respect to “mechanisms” used to balance competing interests, i.e., “What if the server can’t locate the shift manager?”
  • Third, ensure that “mechanisms” used to balance competing interests in your customer service processes are narrowly tailored to protect competing interests without unreasonably burdening customer service.

As always, have a “customerific” week!

Mark

How Would You Modify this Customer Service Process?

When designing a customer service process, don’t forget to ask each other, “Yes, but what if…?”

During onsite customer service training workshops, I routinely share the “locked wine cabinet” story from Lee Cockerell’s book Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney. Lee was a former executive leader at Walt Disney World in Orlando; before that, he held a leadership position at the Marriott in Springfield.

Not only is the story true, but it also exemplifies the importance of repeatedly asking ourselves “Yes, but what if…?” when designing a customer service process.

Here’s what happened.

One evening, a couple decided to celebrate their anniversary at Lee’s Marriott restaurant. The couple ordered a bottle of wine to enjoy before their lobster dinner. As Lee writes in the book, “Soon the lobsters arrived, but still not the wine. By the time [the couple] could toast their marriage, all that remained on their plates were lobster shells.”

At this point in the story, let me pause to pose the following question to you: “What do you think happened?” If you think that the server obviously forgot about the couple’s wine order, your belief, although reasonable, would be wrong. Don’t feel bad, though: my workshop participants respond the same way!

Okay, back to the story.

The next morning, the couple appeared at the restaurant to complain in-person to Lee, who apologized and invited the couple to “reenact” their anniversary dinner at the restaurant for free.

Later that day, during a pre-shift meeting, Lee shared the couple’s story with his restaurant staff to determine what happened. The server who handled the couple’s order explained that he had entered the wine order into the point-of-sale system, printed the receipt, and attempted to locate the shift manager, who possessed the one and only key to the locked wine cabinet. Unfortunately, it took about 30 minutes before the server – or anyone else for that matter – was able to find the shift manager to unlock the wine cabinet. By that time, the couple had finished their lobster entrée.

The most illuminating aspect of this story is that the wine snafu arose out of a process issue rather than a people issue (i.e., the server forgetting about the couple’s wine order). See, in order to minimize the risk of employee theft, the restaurant’s process required the wine cabinet to remain locked. Moreover, the process restricted access to the locked wine cabinet to only one staff member: the shift manager.

But “what if” the shift manager was temporarily absent from the restaurant? The restaurant’s process governing wine orders neglected to encompass that potential scenario, and, as a result, the process itself created the customer service issue.

Consequently, Lee immediately modified the restaurant’s wine-ordering process to prevent a similar situation from occurring.

What did Lee do? Stay tuned: I’ll share that with you next week.

As always, have a “customerific” week!

Mark

Poor Customer Service: What Your Business can do About It

These findings about poor customer service should provide a “wake up call” to all businesses and organizations.

Our friends at JitBit, a customer support software company, recently shared an infographic and article about poor customer service with us, and the data are striking. Before providing the link to the infographic, we wanted to summarize the article’s most critical findings that your business or organization should consider when creating, planning, and implementing customer service initiatives.

Although 80% of businesses believe that they provide “superior” customer service, only 8% of their customers believe that those same businesses actually deliver “superior” customer service.

Yikes! Yes, you read that right, so let that monstrous “realty gap” soak in.

Given this finding, the first task of your business should be to confront the following question, regardless of how sobering the answer: Why do we believe that our organization provides “superior” customer service, but our customers do not? Is it because of insufficient data? Is it because we rely too much on vanity metrics — in other words, data that, despite making us “feel good,” reveal very little about the actual quality of our customer service? (For example, is there a genuine relationship between average call time and “superior” customer service?) Simply put, are we measuring the wrong things?

60% of customers possess higher expectations for customer service now than they did a year ago.

Although you might be tempted to blame the “entitled” Millennials, you may be surprised to learn that the three groups of customers most likely to abandon your business because of poor customer service do not include Millennials. Rather, those high-risk customer groups include business-to-business customers, Generation X customers, and high-income customers.

This finding also reveals the difficult challenge involved in defining “superior” customer service: it’s like “limbo skating,” except that the bar is continually raised, not lowered. Loosely translated, merely because your customers believe your business offers “superior” customer service today, does not mean that your customers will necessarily articulate the same conclusion next year. Accordingly, in order to continually occupy the elite 8% of businesses that truly provides “superior” customer service, your organization needs to relentlessly pursue — without exception — continuous quality improvement customer service initiatives each and every year.

The most popular reason why customers abandon businesses is because they feel unappreciated.

As business leader Tim Sanders astutely observes in Today We are Rich: Harnessing the Power of True Confidence, we need to regularly exercise our “gratitude muscle.” It’s sage advice that will return dividends in customer loyalty to your business.

When was the last time you sent a customer a handwritten thank-you note? When was the last time you visited a customer, not to sell him or her anything, but rather just to visit? And when was the last time you had a box of bagels or doughnuts delivered to a customer? Avoid the temptation to categorize postage, bagels, doughnuts, and your time as “costs”; instead, they should be classified as “investments” — “investments” that will cultivate emotional connections with your customers.

This week, consider doing these three things:

  • Second, review the 11 Costly Traits of Customer Service, which appears below the infographic. Identify the “top three” traits that most likely negatively impact your particular business or organization, and formulate an action plan to neutralize those negative traits. Just don’t neglect to actually implement your action plan!
  • Third, pose the following question to each of your team members, including your front-line staff employees: “How can our organization become even better at customer service during the next year?” You’ll find that your front-line, entry-level employees will likely provide you with valuable ideas to fuel continuous quality improvement customer service initiatives.

Will these three tasks require an investment of your time? Probably, but you’ll find that these activities will help insulate your business against poor customer service, and, as a result, differentiate your organization from competitors.

As always, have a “customerific” week!

Mark

Exercise your Gratitude Muscle this Labor Day

Labor Day is the perfect time to exercise your gratitude muscle.

This past Saturday, I visited a large retail establishment to purchase a graphing calculator. The store was bustling with shoppers. Indeed, it was one of the largest crowds I’ve ever observed there. Even the customer service representative who assisted me commented about how busy she was helping customers.

Anyway, my Saturday visit got me thinking about something.

Many of us celebrate our three-day Labor Day weekend by spending time off with family and friends. Maybe we enjoy a few “cold ones” while grilling hamburgers and hotdogs. Maybe we play golf or go boating to honor the last days of summer. Or maybe we watch college football while eating our favorite homemade appetizers and “finger food.”

But that’s not the case for many customer service representatives, who spend the majority of their Labor Day weekend actually working to assist customers.

And isn’t that a striking irony of Labor Day weekend? Many people — such as law enforcement officers, first responders, and nurses — are actually required to work. But let’s not forget about another group of “unsung heroes” who are typically required to work during Labor Day weekend: customer service representatives.

Tim Sanders — a leadership guru and exemplary author — suggests that we regularly exercise our gratitude muscle.  Indeed, exercising our gratitude muscle is one of the central themes of his best-selling book, Today we Are Rich.

And that’s the purpose of this email: If you’re a current, future, or aspiring leader in your business or organization, please take a moment to exercise your gratitude muscle to genuinely thank your direct reports, team members, or colleagues for actually working during their Labor Day weekend to help customers.

Need some ideas in regards how to exercise your gratitude muscle? Here’s three suggestions about what you can do this Tuesday morning.

  • Dedicate time to walk around the office to spend a few moments with each team member to personally and genuinely thank him or her for working during the Labor Day weekend. While you’re at it, attempt to learn something new about each team member.
  • Devote time to write a customized thank-you note to each team member who sacrificed his or her Labor Day weekend actually working to assist your organization’s customers. Indeed, never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank-you note.
  • Award each team member with a “Take an Hour Off Work” card that he or she can redeem. But wait! Who will cover his or her shift? You! What’s more powerful than saying, “You know what? Take an hour off from work. I’ve got you covered!”

By exercising your gratitude muscle, you’ll not only feel better about yourself, but you’ll also inspire your team members and colleagues to provide even better customer service.

Have a “customerific” week!

Mark

Is your Customer Service Culture out of Alignment?

What do tires and a customer service culture share in common? They both require alignment.

During my senior year of high school, I learned a valuable lesson about tires. While driving to school one morning in my 1973 Cougar XR-7 — with a Cleveland 351 engine, I might add — I experienced a front flat tire. Fortunately, I was near an auto repair facility, so I pulled into the shop. Following a brief inspection, the mechanic told me that I needed two, not just one, new front tires. Although the second tire wasn’t flat, the mechanic explained that, if not replaced soon, the second tire would experience a similar fate. When I asked why, the mechanic told me that the front tires appeared to be out of alignment, which caused the tire to prematurely wear. From that day forward, I’ve been more conscientious of ensuring that my tires are properly aligned and regularly rotated.

Like tires, customer service must also be aligned; otherwise, your customer service might “go flat.”

Let me explain.

Your business or organization probably has different departments. And, although having multiple departments isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing, it nevertheless increases the risk of “misalignment” with respect to the delivery of customer service. For example:

  • Department A “dumps” customer service inquires or issues on Department B, even though Department A is sufficiently capable of resolving those inquiries or issues;
  • Department A says “this” with respect to a customer service question, but Department B says “that” with respect to the same customer service question; or
  • Department A feels as though customer service “is not our job,” but rather the sole and exclusive function of Department B.

If you suspect that any of these scenarios occur in your business, it signifies that your organization’s customer service culture might be “out of alignment.”

Ron Kaufman, a reputable keynote speaker about customer service, provides an excellent example of an organization that possesses an aligned customer service culture: Changi International Airport. Simply put, individuals working in the airport terminal — regardless of whether they work for security, an airline, a bank, or a bookstore — are capable of answering questions commonly asked by travelers, even if the questions do not directly pertain to their specific employer or department.

Let me repeat the last part because it’s a critical component of an aligned customer service culture: even if the questions do not directly pertain to their specific employer or department.

In fact, here’s Ron’s short two-minute video about the airport. Take a moment to watch it and to honestly answer the question Ron poses at the end of the video in regards to the customer service culture at your business or organization.

Even though your business might not be as complex as an international airport, there’s no reason why your organization can’t utilize similar strategies to ensure an aligned customer service culture wherein each and every employee — regardless of his or her job title, function, or duties — is fully and unconditionally committed to providing an exceptional customer service experience to each and every customer.

This week, take a moment to do these three things:

  • First, explain the importance of having an aligned customer service culture to everyone in your business, particularly your leadership team.
  • Second, create a list of the “Top 10” questions that each department in your organization is asked by customers: for example, your accounting department will generate a “Top 10” list; your marketing department will generate a “Top 10” list; and your customer service department will generate a “Top 10” list. Each department’s “Top 10” list will also include the appropriate answers and responses to those questions.
  • Third, use the compiled version of the “Top 10” list to train your employees how to respond to the most common customer service questions, including questions that relate to different departments.

This simple three-step strategy will not only help align your customer service culture, but it will also make it possible for your business to resolve common customer service inquiries and issues without the hassle of having to place customers on hold or transfer calls.

As always, have a “customerific” week!

Mark