I’m wondering, has Mike Rowe ever done an episode of Dirty Jobs on customer service? It’s not as filthy as some of the things I’ve seen, but it can still get nasty. Customer service reps are generally viewed as the bottom man on the totem pole and don’t get a lot of the credit they deserve. More often than not, they are the most important people in the customer, besides the customers, themselves. They are your company’s first line of defense against an irate customer and the really good ones can turn a wayward experience into the stuff of raving fans. This post is going to show you how to do just that.
Having served in customer service on some level for at least the last twelve years or so, I’ve gained some powerful insight into just how awful some businesses (especially the big ones) are about getting this thing right. When it comes down to it, we all want to please our customers – we enjoy what we do and we enjoy getting paid for it. Yet on some sort of corporate level, we lose that joy in the muck and mire of handling yet another problem or dealing with some consequence of some board member. Believe me, I know how you feel, and here’s how you as a manager or owner, can make sure your team feels loved, important and has a desire to do even better.
Make customer service a Core Value. You know why I love Core Values? They provide accountability back to me. Core Values are the principles that the company as a whole is dedicated to. They are the ones that get printed on the posters and brought up during training. They are the thing that we continually drill into our employees. Because everyone knows about them, my own team can call me out when one of our Core Values is being violated, even by me. If I don’t allow myself to serve under the same Core Values they do, they are not even Core Values anymore. They are just words on a poster that I deemed meaningless with my actions.
Core Values are what we teach our team, regardless of whether or not we intended to. You know what the primary Core Value is for most businesses that don’t have a dedicated set of Core Values? “Make more money the least expensive way.” You can tell that by the way they behave. Their representatives and their managers are all tied towards the common goal of “make more money.” Ironically, throwing their customers to the wayside is typically how they set out to achieve this.
Zappos.com–the online shoe-selling powerhouse owned by an even bigger powerhouse called Amazon–is well-known for their customer service. You know what their very first actual Core Value is? Of course, it’s “Deliver WOW through service.” They are emotional, connected and doing wonderfully well, because they make customer service with WOW a corporate priority. So if you really want to see top-down change on your team in the way they interact with customers, make it a priority at the highest level.
Empower your people. You can print up all the wonderful corporate propaganda you want, but if you don’t actually give your team the tools to execute, you are flat out wasting your time.
I’ve worked for two different video rental chains in my time. The first was the big blue behemoth that virtually owned the video rental business, until it filed for bankruptcy in 2010. At their peak, there were more than 3500 stores. Now, you can hardly find a single one.
The big blue corporate machine behaved just like a corporate machine. I served as a Customer Service Rep and later as a Manager. During that time I learned that while we had training and uniforms and procedures and policies, we–as a corporation–did not have a heart. The customer service experience was different for every employee. If someone was outstanding in that area, it was because they chose to be. We weren’t exactly known for stellar customer service.
In 2010 I worked just ninety days for another video rental chain, this one was small but growing, and they were family-owned. I had largely the same responsibilities and about the same pay as you’d expect. The major difference? I rarely had an angry customer. We were empowered to take care of the customer and turn their situation around in whatever we could manage. There was no calling over a manager to give a credit – I was trained, trusted and empowered to handle that! Despite what you might think, we rarely had folks abuse this. Most of us and our customers were just happy to be able to take care of folks the right way.
So give some thought to how much control you can relinquish to your team. When you step back and them them the power to run with your ideas, you’ll see amazing things happen.
Make it easy to get to a human on the phone. It’s a rare thing for a business to just answer the phone anymore. First you start with the language selection. Then you move to the directory of departments, then you find the name if you need that, or you dial in the operator, where you’re placed on hold and finally, by some miracle, you might reach the person you actually meant to talk to. Maybe, but probably not.
An angry or unsatisfied customer only gets worse if they have to wait. If the customer service experience is a core value in your customer, then all of your other decisions and vehicles of communication with the customer need to be tailored to meet that core value. Get them to a human as fast as possible so the customer can be handled in a timely and appropriate manner, even on the phone.
Find creative ways to make your service memorable. When my wife and I had to take our car in for some recall maintenance a couple of weeks ago, we initially called up the dealership we’d bought the car from. They were…less than accommodating. Not only would it be another week before they could even look at it, they also said it’d be 4-8 weeks to get the part in! It was a recall issue, after all.
Well, we’ve only got the one car and could not be without one for that long. We called another dealership and they immediately offered to take it in and–get this–provide a paid-for rental on loan! While we’re waiting on the part to get in and the work to get done, we’re happily cruising around in a car that’s only a year old, and several years newer than our existing car.
Now I know some of you are thinking to yourself that we’re being had. They’re just going to try to upsell us on that car when it’s time to get the new one out of the shop. That might very well be the case, and were we in a position to do so, we might just do it – all because of the invaluable service they gave us when we needed it! What they’re doing isn’t immoral at all – it’s just evidence of what can happen when you go out of your way to make the customer feel special.
Let me leave you with this question: What are some ways that you can invest the time and energy it would take to get your team on the same page in customer service? Leave your answer in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!