Great Customer Service Exceeding Their Expectations!
by Randy Neufeld
Every customer has expectations of the level of customer service they look for when they walk into a business. Every business has a standard of customer service that they want their staff to maintain. So what determines these levels and standards, and how do we know what to expect.
I think it is safe to say that every business wants to have great customer service. But what is “great customer service”? We have all been at business’ that claim to have “great customer service” but have clearly fallen short of our expectations. We have also all had experiences with business’ that have either met or exceeded our expectations. Every transaction will fall into one of these three categories.
I believe that the definition of “great customer service” is when the business consistently exceeds the expectations of the customer. To do this the business needs to understand what their customers are expecting. There are several ways to try and measure this. The first step is to take a look from the outside at our own company, would our expectations be met with an average transaction that takes place. Another would be to ask our customers. This can be done in several ways. We can do follow up calls or e-mails with customers asking how we did. Or, we could send out surveys to several customers and ask them what they are looking for when they come into our business. Every customer will have a different standard of what they expect. Let’s face it we will never be able to make everyone happy so we have to decide where to set the bar. Once we figure out what standard of customer service will exceed the majority of our customer’s expectations, we will have a pretty good idea if we are hitting it or if there is a gap. The gap of course is the difference between what our customers expect and what we are providing.
So after a little bit of self analysis we determine that there is a gap. What next? How do we fix it? Here are a couple of things to look at.
- Do the employees at the business know where the bar is? Most employees are like the business owner in that they want to provide good customer service, however many of them may not have as high of a standard as the business owner or the customers. We have to make it clear to the employees what we expect. This can be done leading by example and by having clear policies and procedures.
- Do the employees know how to provide great customer service? We need to take the time to train our employees not only with what we expect but also how to make sure that they know how to reach that standard. Simple things, like how to greet a customer for example, may be common sense to us, but may be new to someone new to dealing with customers. Initial training is usually done in house. Additional training for newer staff or refreshers for long term employees from an outside source will help with credibility in what you have taught them and continue to reinforce a consistent message.
- Have we empowered our employees to fix problems? As was mentioned earlier we will never be able to make everyone happy but if we empower the people that work at our business to address problems before they get out of control they will be much likelier to step in and help out rather than letting the situation escalate. When a customer gets let down and tells us about it we should look at it as if they are doing us a favor. Most customers will leave disgruntled and never tell us but will be happy to tell everyone else they talk to. Many of your best customers will be customers that at one point were disappointed but because the situation was resolved now have added faith in your organization and will be customers for life. Giving the employees an amount of money they can spend to keep a customer happy without involving management not only gets the situations resolved more efficiently it also makes the employees feel valued.
- Ask them. Most customers will give you some sort of hint that they are not happy. Although they may not be ready to come out and complain, if asked will tell you what’s going on.
- Identify the areas we are missing the mark? Many times the overall customer service is pretty good but we may be falling short in a little area that makes a big impact. It can be as little as the first person they see does not smile or give them a warm greeting. These issues can usually be resolved without spending much money. We just have to be observant and make sure we address the issues as we see them.
- Check out other businesses that you deal with. Many times the best way to learn is by observing others. Every time you go into another business take a look to see things that you like. When in another business similar to the one you work at try and take away one or two things they are doing that you can implement when you get back to your business.
- Help your employees understand who they are dealing with. Many people find it difficult to understand people of different age, gender or culture. If your customers for example are mainly middle age women and you have young male employees they would have to learn how to relate and treat the customers. Every customer will have different expectations and will need to be treated in a different manor.
Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Many people are very good at what they do, but just because you are a great dentist or electrician does not make you a customer service expert. We walk into our business every day and get immune to some of the issues that are right in front of us.
Standing back and taking a fresh look will often bring up some obvious items. Other times the issues may not be that obvious. Sometimes it takes someone else examining things with a non bias view. If you know someone else that can help you out, great. If not it might be a cost effective endeavor to hire an outside firm to come in and give you some help. These companies specialize in coming into a business, identifying the issues and putting together a plan to fix them. This leaves you more time to focus on what you do best running the business itself.
It is sometimes hard to look at areas we need to improve but when it comes to providing great customer service looking at some of these basic areas will help you exceed their expectations.
Randy Neufeld is the General Manager at North Country Cycle and Sports.