Is Customer Service a Lost Art?

By Rick Artis

We’ve all been a part of the ugly side of customer service, whether a restaurant server with a bad attitude (yet expects a better than average tip), a retail cashier that can’t correctly count change, or a sales clerk that won’t give us the time of day. One of the biggest complaints we repeatedly hear is, ‘Customer services in this town sucks’. Unfortunately, in many cases, customer service not only sucks, it is often non-existent.

In every town, and every service-industry-dependent town in particular, customer service needs to be job one for every employee and business owner. There can be no excuses. Unfortunately, just as the demand for better service is being expected, and more often demanded, the service level exhibited in most retail shops/restaurants/service organizations is consistently and appreciably declining.

The folks at Unicom took a look at many of the reasons why customer service is failing. Here are several that they identified with additional information included for good measure.

Failing to provide a clear customer service vision

Even a single sentence vision statement will provide a concise encapsulation of what is expected. And when written with the customer in mind, it will demonstrate the company’s commitment to service and will help foster a consistent customer-service attitude. Something as simple as, “Every time someone comes through the door, we will provide a customer experience that guarantees their satisfaction and assures that they will have every reason to return,” will go a long way toward building the attitude necessary to provide stellar service during every customer encounter.

Not role modeling the level of service expected from every member of the team

Set the bar high and demonstrate the best customer service practices expected of every employee. Be the example. Praise and reward the very best actions. Provide feedback when necessary to help build confidence and skill levels. Never settle for sub-stellar performance from anyone in your company.

Hiring the wrong types of employees

A bad hire is expensive. Not only can the out of pocket costs exceed 30% of the employee’s annual salary, but their poor service may never be fully measured in terms of lost sales, negative publicity, and ill will.

When hiring, a strong customer-service attitude needs to be high on the list of priorities alongside experience, education, and skills.

In areas with a strong economy and/or a small workforce pool, finding fully qualified applicants can be a serious challenge. Many employers feel like they have to take anyone who walks through the door, regardless of how talented or trainable they may be. With the costs of hiring poorly so high, even with a limited talent pool, employers still need to be selective.

Failure to add customer service expectations to the training program

‘Delighting the customer’ needs to be right up there with ‘Here’s where the light switches are’ and “This is how we close out the daily sales record’. Epic customer service does not always come naturally, but can be learned.

Articles hitting the media about simply teaching the employees to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ having huge rewards over the competition demonstrate just how far in the wrong direction customer service has fallen. With things being so bad, even a moderately positive experience is likely to generate a slew of recommendations.

Turning customers away

Difficult customers can be, well… difficult. Letting your frustration get the best of you and turning them away or telling them to shop elsewhere will be the kiss of death. Bad news travels way faster and way farther than good news. A good reputation can be destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes the irate customer just wants to be heard and know that you care. Letting cool heads prevail, finding the root of the issue, and resolving issues for a difficult customer will reap benefits that exceed the level of potential damage done by blowing off a customer.

Assuming your customer service is better than it actually is

Listening to what your customers says will go a long way toward identifying at exactly what level your service really is. Losing a customer is easy. Finding, satisfying, and retaining a customer is not.

If you are not sure where your service level is relative to your competitors, ask a couple of people you trust to shop your store and your two fiercest rivals. Be willing to accept brutally honest feedback. If things are not where you would like them, make the necessary changes.

Mishandling unhappy customers

It’s easy to retaliate when someone is angry, especially on the phone. Returning anger with anger, raising your voice, hanging up, or walking away from a difficult situation is never a reasonable solution, especially for the customer service-oriented business.

Over half of all consumers will refuse to ever do business again with a company after a single negative experience. You may only get one chance to build a life-long relationship.

Responding poorly to online reviews

Consumers have a myriad of ways to affect your business both for the good and for the bad. Online reviews are seemingly everywhere. Social media gurus will encourage you to encourage your customers to drop notes at various sites to build our exposure and increase your presence. If you follow that advice, be prepared to provide answers when things go wrong.

Let’s say an out of town customer dropped by for a late-night snack and then posted the following:

“1-star at best. Travelling across country for the holidays, during a snowstorm, we were hungry and decided to grab a bite at Tony’s Late Nite Pizza Shack at 11:45 pm. The posted hours were 11:00 am to 12:00 midnight. The hostess was surly, saying they were closing in 15 minutes and the menu would be limited. She was quite impatient and the kitchen guy slammed things around in the back the whole time we were waiting for our food. We were finally served at 11:58. The hostess stared at us the entire time we were eating, obviously wanting us to leave. And then the food wasn’t even that good. Needless to say, we will not be back. We may not even stop in that town again.”

Which of these responses will play better across the social media world?

“What did you expect coming in 15 minutes before closing? You had to know the employees were tired and ready to go home. You should have known better than to expect that they would treat you any better, especially when you don’t even live here.”

Or

“I am so sorry that you had such a terrible experience, especially with the added stress of travelling in bad weather. We strive to make sure that each of our guests have a great meal and a pleasant dining experience. Let’s find a way to connect offline, so I can see about making things right for you.”

How would you react after reading this review and either of the responses?

Failing to prioritize customer service at all levels

 Want to know the single easiest way to increase sales? Deliver stellar customer service. 70% of all consumers report that they have and will spend more with companies that provide above average service. Highest priority customer service needs to become part of the company culture. With the service chasm widening every day, your very survival as a company depends on it.

Not giving the frontline staff the tools and parameters needed to solve customer issues quickly

Outline what you deem reasonable for working to satisfy your customers. Giving the customer the run around, having to get a manager’s approval, or any other obstacle that prohibits a quick resolution only exacerbates an unhappy situation. If a lower-level employee can handle the situation quickly and easily, everyone is happier, sooner.

Conclusion

Every business, especially those in service-oriented industries needs to reprioritize their customer service. From the CEO to the frontline hourly employee, concentrating on providing stellar service will only enhance your customer experience and result in fewer customer issues.

Commit right now to hiring only the best customer servants. Make sure they are trained properly. Model best practices. Have your service vision statement always available. Use every dissatisfaction as an opportunity to build a customer relationship. Give everyone the tools and authority to handle problems to the customer’s satisfaction. If you will do these things, your business will shine like a beacon in the ever-widening customer service wasteland.

Original article