Sometimes a great customer service story is focused on a grand gesture, an act that amazes the customer. A Nordstrom accepting the return of four tires from a dissatisfied man even though they don’t sell tires. A maid at the Ritz Carlton guaranteeing that the hotel would replace a guest’s missing laptop computer if it wasn’t found by days end. Most of the time, customer service can be found in the little things: a smile, a giving attitude, or a kind word.
Nordstrom, the Ritz Carlton, Disneyland. We all know the icons of customer service. We also know when we’ve had a lousy experience (I’ll let you ponder your own experiences here rather than go off on my own). The big question, really, is: What is Customer Service? Before we can answer that, let’s go to dictionary.com and look for some definitions. FirstCUSTOMER: “a person who purchases goods or services from another” Next, SERVICE: “An act of helpful activity.” So, customer service is the act of helping someone who has or could purchase goods or services.
The operative word, I believe, is activity. Customer service is active, even PRO or PREactive, not passive. It’s an action, not a reaction. It has life and a purpose. “Well done is better than well said,” were the words of Benjamin Franklin. Yoda proclaimed, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Customer service is about DOING.
With that in mind, and knowing that simplicity of process helps us learn and implement, let’s look at the Eight Amazingly Simple Rules of Customer Service.
- Know Thyself.It is imperative that you know yourself: your business, what you have to offer and the best way to reach people. If you don’t feel good about yourself and your business, you’ll suffer from CSD (Customer Service Defensiveness). Do what you love so that you can love what you do. Passion and love go a long way to delivering the highest levels of customer service.
- Know who is #1.The customer is the boss. Without them you have no business. This concept must be at the core of everything you do. The customer may not always be right, they may not always be nice. They are, however, the customer and any business that does not treat them as if they are the most important part of the business will suffer greatly.
- Be a good listener.The essential component of making the customer number 1 is to know what they want. Excellent customer service often manifests itself in the ability to listen more than talk. Take the time to identify wants and needs. Make people feel important and appreciated. Remember, you can’t be answer to someone’s prayers unless you know what they’re praying for. Keep in mind that the more you listen (and ask questions), the more you know your customer. The more you know them, the better you may serve them. Once you’ve listened, be able to summarize or reframe the customer’s position without distortion or adding your opinion. Get it accurate up front to save yourself significant grief later.
- Exceed expectations.In writing lyrics for the musical Ain’t Misbehavin, Fats Waller wrote, “Find out what they like and how they like and let them have it just that way.” That’s a nice philosophy, but the problem is that under Fats’ guidance, you’re only meeting expectations. Do more! Go the extra mile. In his book, Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith said, “Customer service is the gap between what the customer expects and what they get.” This doesn’t mean you create low expectations in order to achieve them. Go beyond what they expect. As Tom Peters suggested: Amaze, Amuse, Surprise, Delight. What have you done to WOW someone lately?
- Have systems.At the core of every great business are systems allowing that business the ability to operate at a peak performance level. Systems make businesses more efficient and more effective. Having systems isn’t where that ships docks, however, customers need to be privy to the systems. There is little more frustrating for a customer than being in the middle of a process they know little or nothing about. Tell/show your customers what’s happening, keeping in mind as Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
- Do Unto Others.You know the Golden Rule. Use it in your customer service. Treat people as you would like to be treated. A little empathy goes a long way in understanding and helping your customers. If we would make a habit of putting ourselves in the shoes of our clients and customers, all of these laws would become second nature. You know what it feels like to experience customer service at either end of the spectrum, so create the experience YOU would like.
- Know how to say YES and/or I’M SORRY. If you’re wrong, admit it. There is power in accepting responsibility and owning a problem. Anyone can shift blame or point a finger. Good customer service is anchored in a company’s willingness to step up, admit blame when appropriate, and take action to correct the issue no matter who is at fault.
- Communicate.The best way to know you’re helping someone is to ask. Get feedback early and often. Make sure you’re on the right road and make corrections to insure your giving people what they want and need. Above all, communicate honestly and openly. Follow through when you say you will. Seriously, if you told me you’ll call me back this afternoon and you don’t: you’ve lost my trust. Great customer service is based on trust and once you’ve lost it you are WAY up the creek, without a paddle, never again to be seen/heard/used in my world.
The preceding are the Eight Amazingly Simple Rules of Customer Service. Follow these simple laws and three results will follow: you’ll make your people happy (even, delighted), they will tell others about you and how you serve and you’ll do more business.