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Six ways to transform your customer service

10th Aug 2009
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What can customer service leaders and managers do that will really make the difference in motivating employees to behave in the right way? Stephanie Edwards offers six key steps on transforming the customer service experience.

Customer satisfaction in the UK is just over 70% but the UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2009 shows that many customers' needs are still not being met. We may mull over customer satisfaction indices, listen to tales of horrendous service, or just rely on our own experiences of the wide-ranging levels of service that exist, but things just don’t seem to get significantly better for customers. And that is in spite of the rising mountain of evidence showing that the customer experience is the prime determinant of business success and that customers’ expectations are not only increasing, but that those expectations are actually turning into demands.
Investing in your people is often the solution, but don’t we already know how to deliver customer service? Isn’t it just that many employees are not sufficiently motivated to do the things for customers that will delight and excite them? Customer service training does contribute to the solution, but the complete answer is often more about behaviour and attitude. The question becomes: what can customer service leaders and managers do that will really make the difference in motivating  employees to behave in the right way? Very often they know what to do, but they need to become enthused and excited about customers. A spark is required in order to turn that organisational customer service strategy - the vision - into a reality.
Both poor and outstanding service has a strong emotional impact upon us, creating intense feelings about organisations. Many businesses find service excellence elusive, hard to grasp and difficult to deliver. But companies must face up to how service - good or bad - impacts dramatically on their reputation and business success. Everyone in business has a customer and it is time to look after them! 
Here are six steps to transform your customer service:
1. Create a customer service culture
The challenge for many businesses is inconsistent customer service delivery, which can create real challenges in maintaining a reputation for service excellence. Customer expectations are rising daily and complainants can do irretrievable damage to organisations through channels such as Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Organisations must not be complacent but instead develop a customer-focused culture and can-do attitude, keeping the customer at the heart of their business, and offering a seamless but effective service. Feedback is essential from both your teams and your customers before implementing any major changes in the way you deliver service to your customers.
2. Develop customer service standards
World class leaders develop customer service standards for both internal and external customers, promoting the 'promises to customers'. These standards inform customers what to expect from your organisation and it is vital that you identify what is important to customers. The Institute of Customer Service commissioned a research project, led by Professor Robert Johnston of Warwick Business School, and he discovered the gold nuggets that can keep customers happy:
  • Deliver the promise: Do what you say you will do.
  • Keep transactions personal: People are individuals, so treat them how you would like to be treated.
  • Go the extra mile: Give your customers something extra to keep them loyal.
  • Handle complaints professionally: This is paramount because research tells us that 91% of complainants will stay loyal to an organisation if their complaint is handled professionally. They will also become your most loyal ambassadors and tell others about your brilliant service recovery. 
3. Create your own customer service ambassadors
If customer service standards are to be integrated into the business with any hope of buy-in from staff, then employees must be involved in the development process. They must be trained and given the appropriate knowledge, skills and competencies to deal with customers professionally. Your customer service people represent your brand and can delight your customers or destroy your business. To focus your teams on customers you must create a link from the organisation's values to the culture of the team. Inspire them to live those values through innovation, focus and customer obsession.
4. Develop customer service leaders and managers
World class organisations acknowledge the key importance of excellent customer service and the vital role that managers and team leaders play in building a reputation for service excellence. Managers and team leaders equipped with the right skills and understanding can implement a service culture and make a real difference to the business, managing service effectively and proactively through motivating and inspiring their teams.
5. Ensure your processes are customer-centric
Many organisations drive staff and customers to despair by creating complicated and lengthy processes which frustrate staff and customers alike. Ask your staff what can be done to improve the service they give to customers and how processes could be simplified to ensure customer satisfaction. Ensure your organisation is easy to do business with and make it easy for customers to complain. Effective processes, designed and delivered in the right way, help to ensure that effective service can be delivered consistently, time after time, to customers.
6. Review and measure performance
Once you have created your service excellence strategy, do not get complacent. Review and evaluate your company’s performance. Specific areas of customer service excellence can be celebrated by the teams responsible. Where pockets of under-performance are highlighted, individuals can be coached and redirected towards the standards of customer service expected by the business and, more importantly, by the customer. When interpreting information about customer needs, expectations and satisfaction levels, it is important for customer service managers to make the right decisions about what changes to introduce and communicate these changes to all stakeholders.

Stephanie Edwards is managing director of Customer 1st International. The organisation's Best Practice Guide for Customer Service Managers is available in hard copy, as an e-book, e-workbook and accredited tutor-led online award.

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