By Ed Horrell
Speculation as to the reasons why customer service is at the low level it is today is rampant. The reasons are numerous—more sophisticated customers, a generational change of employee attitudes toward work, more outsourcing of customer service call centers overseas, and too much technology are just a few. While I agree that each of these things contributes to the current levels, I don't think any of them is the significant problem. I think the problem is much more deeply rooted. Too many companies think there is a quick fix for their customer service problems, as opposed to making a long-term commitment to quality that is accepted by everyone in the organization, top to bottom.
If we accept the fact that the quick-fix solutions will not work, what methods of implementing change can be utilized that will indeed result in cultural changes in a company? What are some of the things an organization can do to cause a lasting change in its customer service performance? Here are some simple ideas that can produce profound results:
- Have real expectations of the results of seminars and speakers. These programs should be used to introduce new ideas or to support existing programs but never to be used in lieu of other processes. There is no magic potion for service. It has to be ongoing and an inherent part of the culture of the organization. Seminars and speakers are effective catalysts of service culture, but they are never to be confused with the solution. The solution is the relentless pursuit of service combined with values.
- Make sure the top-line executives of the organization know that customer service is serious business to the company. It cannot be lip service; senior management must take service very seriously. Remember that employees observe management and how it supports this culture. They will act accordingly.
- Keep the key issues of the company’s service beliefs and principles alive via regular meetings and discussions. The basic service principles of the organization should be mentioned at every meeting in the organization. There should be no exceptions to this. Discussions of the quest for service should be second-nature when meetings occur. Employees should be sincerely commended when they report that they have done something for a customer.
- Make sure that written correspondence—from internal memos to email correspondence—includes references to service. I have a client who has every employee in his firm include one of the company's service basics on the signature line of his or her e-mails. Every e-mail that is sent, therefore, makes a stated commitment to service. This creates an atmosphere of "lifting the bar" that causes the employees to be consistently aware that they have stated the importance of service and they must live up to their commitment.
- Emphasize the beliefs and principles with new employees. New employees should have no question regarding the importance of service in the organization. The focus on customer service should be reinforced during any orientation as well as the natural mentoring that will take place with new hires. From interviews, to welcome sessions, to training, through indoctrination, service must be stressed.
- Make sure that your company Website communicates the passion for service that exists in the organization. Websites are more and more becoming the front door for businesses. A Website is an extension of the company to prospects and customers in the same way that the receptionist or operator is the front door to your company.
- Make sure that executives and managers are interacting with customers. This is something that I rarely see practiced by any companies. Senior managers too often operate with the concept that they have "paid their dues" and that they don't need to interact with customers any more. They feel they have reached a level that is above spending time with customers and would rather dictate to others in the organization what their customers are thinking and how to deal with them!
- Treat your customer service reps as importantly as you treat your sales reps. If you've ever noticed the lavish awards, banquets, and recognition that most companies heap on their sales representatives, you've probably also noticed the absence of recognition of the customer service contact people. Companies have migrated toward a fairly common belief that the name of the business game is new sales while often losing sight of the fact that it takes more cost to acquire a new customer than it does to maintain an existing one.
Adapted with permission of the publisher from The Kindness Revolution by Ed Horrell. Copyright 2006, Ed Horrell. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.
About the Author(s)
Ed Horrell has been writing and consulting on customer service issues for over 20 years. He is the host of the syndicated Talk About Service radio show and podcast. A popular speaker, he addresses more than 120 audiences a year. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee.