What makes great customer service?
What makes great customer service? It’s a question which can have many different answers, each depending on the industry, product or service of the business providing it. In some industries, customer service is viewed as an afterthought, an area in which complaints are handled. In others, it’s viewed as a central part of the way a business competes.
A mistake often made by manufacturing or industrial SMEs is to assume that customer service is more important for service industries than for their own. Not so. In a flattening business world, where cost competitiveness has a global span, companies of all sizes need to look for ways to stand out. One way of doing that and building up some long-term customer loyalty is to deliver great customer service.
There are some businesses who decide to outsource their customer service, to a company far removed from the needs and circumstances of the businesses or consumers who are their customers. In my view, that is a mistake, because it takes a central part of a business – being in contact with its customers – and gives it to a third party. Why would you be so averse to allowing your own employees, with detailed knowledge of your own products or services to talk to the customers who provide your income?
Other businesses, particularly those at the smaller end of the SME scale make different mistakes. These businesses often recognise the central importance of customer service to their competitiveness, and diligently research and implement a range of technologies to help their limited resources reach further. So, they invest in expensive CRM systems, automated switchboards, virtual answering services, automated customer survey forms and “tell us how we’re doing” feedback emails.
The most fundamental point shared by these two contrasting approaches - the “We want someone else to care” and the “We care a great deal” - is that they both lack authenticity. In the case of outsourcing one of the most important things in your business, there’s no authenticity because someone else is doing it for you. In the case of technological overloading of customer service, the authenticity is absent because it’s a formulaic, impersonal approach. How many times have you completed an automated customer survey form and ever received a real “Thanks for your time”, let alone seen something actually change?
For the SMEs who don’t outsource, but try to deliver good customer service, this lack of authenticity can arise because they’re actually trying too hard. They focus on the process rather than the outcome, feeling that the visibility of the tools of customer service is a substitute for it. Often, they could deliver much better customer service by simply concentrating on the basics. A meeting, telephone call or an email dealt with by a person, who is: Informed, Diligent, Engaged and Authentic – my IDEA of customer service – will produce much better results than complex processes.
Being informed in customer service means giving whoever is providing it a good information system, with timely, relevant data about the customer. Diligent means they need to do what they say they will, without reminders. Engaged means demonstrating a full understanding of what the customer wants in this transaction, and exactly what you will do to provide it. Authenticity means understanding your company’s products or services inside out, understanding your customer’s needs, and why they buy from you.
Customer service is actually very straightforward. Delivering great customer service is not difficult; it simply takes a focus on the basics, hard work, and authenticity.