Customer service remains a key way to set yourself apart as a professional and achieve success as an organization. In this article, you will learn the basic principles of customer service and ways to develop your skill in this area.
These skills are typically emphasized in sales, marketing and other roles that directly connect with end customers. What if you work in IT or a corporate function like finance, operations or human resources? Customer service skills still made a great impact in these areas because everyone in business has customers to serve.
Designing Experiences & Solving Problems: The State of Customer Service Today
Based on my research, customers see two aspects to effective customer service. First, customers expect and appreciate a well designed process that takes care of their needs (i.e. the proactive side of service). Second, customers want to be able to solve problems FAST (i.e. the reactive side of service). Developing both aspects of
- Technology Impact. Leading companies are using technology to deliver certain aspects of customer service. As project managers, there is a great contribution to be made here. If you have a strong understanding of process and business analysis, you can use technology to deliver consistent customer service.
- Deliver a WOW Experience. Michael Hyatt explains how to create and deliver a WOW experience (i.e. exceed customer expectations) in his book Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World. In the book, I was impressed by his example of the receptionist at Thomas Nelson Publishers. This person had the assignment to create “a WOW experience” for people visiting the company. This experience included greeting guests by name, offering them food and/or drink and considerations. The best part? The person’s job title is “Director of First Impressions.”
- Avoid The Bad Customer Experience Time Suck. According to Ruby Newell-Legner, “It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.” Delivering a good customer service experience up front means that you have more time available for other activities.
- Solve Problems In One Interaction. We have all had the experience of contacting an organization to resolve a billing error or get an important question answered. According to Accenture research, 89% of Canadians surveyed say their #1 frustration is not being able to have their problem solved based on their first interaction
Customer Service Lessons From Leading Companies
In this section, I will share a few examples of companies that have delivered the goods in customer service. In addition to customer service excellence, I noticed that these organizations do NOT base their strategy on cost or price. If you aspire to be a “premium professional” who is paid above the market average, consider improving your customer service experience.
1. Porter Airlines
My experience with Porter Airlines, a regional Canadian airline, has always been positive. The company’s committment to a positive customer experience became clear to me when I arrived at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport for the first time. Porter provided a complimentary snack bar with high quality snacks and coffee. In addition, the lounge offered free wireless Internet access and a set of Apple computers with large monitors. In addition to their excellent facilities, the staff were friendly and the whole experience ran smoothly. Air travel often leaves much to be desired in customer experience. Porter shows that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Lesson: Many people are upset by poor customer service in air travel. That frustration creates an opportunity to excel in customer service. If your department or organization has a weak reputation, you can stand out.
2. The Walt Disney Company
In October 2015, I attended the PMI Global Congress in Orlando, FL. From my arrival to departure, I spent 95% of my time on Disney properties. Overall, I was impressed! Disney has thought through the end to end customer experience (e.g. picking up visitors at the Orlando airport, providing great conference facilities and so forth). I’m not the only one who has noticed Disney’s excellence.
Carmine Gallo wrote about Disney’s customer experience on Forbes. He noted that Disney parks are maintained to a high standard. Even better, Disney staff are equipped to communicate effectively: “the staff is also trained to answer common questions, even if it’s “not their job.” One Disneyland employee I talked to even knew the times of a show at another end of the park and how long the show would last. Most employees at other businesses are not trained to communicate.”
Lesson: Disney’s outstanding committment to training and cleanliness is an advantage. This example shows us that outstanding delivery on basic ideas like cleanliness can be enough to set you apart.
Federal Express (FedEx) first became known through a promise to deliver packages fast each and every time. Recently, I have been impressed by the company’s efforts to build a robust self-serve website for customers. I was able to sign up for email notifications about the status of a package. I also appreciated the fact that the company called me in advance regarding customs duties payable on a package. Of course, I also have to mention that Federal Express’s committment to customer service was memorably depicted by Tom Hanks’s character in the 2000 movie Cast Away.
Lesson: The Federal Express customer service approach shows an outstanding approach to logistics, operations and delivering customer service through technology. Look for ways to deliver more up to date information to customers using technology, a service that Fedex and Amazon have both developed to a high level.
How To Deliver Better Customer Service in 4 Steps
Delivering better customer service as an individual professional is one of the best ways to stand out. Use these steps to start the process of improving your service.
1. Determine Your Current State
Look around your current project or organization for customer service problems. A classic opportunity is the “It’s not my job to do X” situation. In other cases, you may notice a chronic problem where everyone in the unit runs sloppy meetings.
2. Look For A Quick Win
Once you identify a customer service problem to work on, you can move forward to improve customer service. Remember, your perspective is to ask “What can I personally do to improve customer service?” If everybody is used to waiting five business days for a decision on change requests, you can start to respond in three business days.
3. Collect Customer Feedback
Gathering customer feedback is essential to your effort to improve customer service. After all, your effort to deliver a quick win may fall on deaf ears if you identified the wrong problem to work on. On the other hand, you may gain positive comments from surprised customers. Keep a record of these positive comments because they will help you to influence others to join you in your improvement efforts.
4. Plan For Continuous Improvement
Customer expectations are constantly changing, so flexibility is a key aspect of customer service success. If your efforts have been well received, your next step may be to plan a project to roll out your new approach to the rest of the organization. Otherwise, return to the first step and look for other problems.
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