By Elizabeth Leer
No amount of branding can help a company overcome poor customer service. Good branding is time-consuming and can be an expensive process. So do not undo all the hard work and expense with poor customer service. Consumers are looking for companies who provide above and beyond customer service and will choose to shop elsewhere especially in a down economy if they feel they were treated poorly. Here are seven ways for any business to increase customer satisfaction by providing superior customer service.
Employee Training: Well trained staff members are essential to providing quality customer service. No one wants to stand around waiting for a business’ representative to figure out how to do their job or service their customer. Companies need to provide comprehensive training to their staff in order to build on their company branding. It is much more powerful to have a reputation attached to the brand that says, “This company provides excellent customer service”than to have a business whose name is synonymous with bad service. Training needs to incorporate more than just how to do day to day procedures; it needs to incorporate people skills and service techniques as well. Different cultures may have been exposed to different methods of dealing with people. These methods may not be in alignment with company beliefs. Company training is one way to make sure that all associates are familiar with the way they are expected to treat and interact with customers while representing the company.
Stay Calm and Smile: Teach associates to always remain calm and even-keeled when in the presence of customers, even too angry customers and how to calm an angry customer without being patronizing. No business can have 100 percent, happy customers, all the time; there will always be the squeaky wheel that needs some grease. The important thing is to know how to manage these squeaks without turning them into a full-blown emergency siren. By teaching staff members to stay calm and to not let the encounter become a direct attack on themselves, staff members are provided with an invaluable mediation tool. Instruct associates on the technique of looking at all customers as individuals with their own problems outside of the immediate situation that may be part of their emotional response. Teaching employees empathy removes the preconceptions that can often escalate an already negative situation and instead provides the associate with the proper mindset to understand the customer’s viewpoint and find an equitable solution. When administering this training do not forget to address how the staff member may be affected internally by the encounter. It is not an easy task to be asked to return negative comments or yelling with cordial responses in a calm manner. It is important for associates to know that their well-being and feelings are just as important as the clients. Provide a cool off break where associates can take a few minutes to get themselves back in perspective after a strongly negative interaction with a customer. A short cool off break will ensure that associates are ready to take on the next challenging situation with skill and grace while reminding them that they too are important to the company.
Happy Employees: It is impossible to expect disgruntled employees to provide happy and cordial customer interactions. This is why happy employees who feel vested in the success of the company are an invaluable resource. Taking care of associates and showing them they are valued is one way to both create a happy workforce and a positive image to the community. Three such examples of this are:
- Negative – According to an article in Blomberg Businessweek, Walmart employees in three major U.S. cities Boston, Miami and San Francisco, went on a weeklong strike in May 2014 claiming lower than poverty level wages and no benefits as the reasons for their striking.
- Negative – Amazon.com’s Leipzig, Germany fulfillment center recently went on strike demanding better wages and more comprehensive benefits.
- Positive – The same article points out that in Costco’s 30-year history they have never had these sorts of worker disputes. Their average hourly wage is $20.89 plus overtime, versus the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and Walmart’s full-time hourly employee average wage of $12.67. Costco’s 5 percent employee turnover rate is substantially below retail standards and a direct indication of their employee loyalty. While other retailers have struggled to keep their doors open through the past five years, Costco has grown 30 percent and had their stock price double since 2009.
The financial aspect of happy employees are employees who stay longer creating a lower turnover rate, less training costs, and fewer recruiting expenses. What it takes to provide for associate needs will be different from company to company as the size and industry of the company will inevitably play key roles in what is feasible to provide and still allow the company to make a profit. Take a census of what associates feel they need and then figure out what works best for both the company and its employees. After this is done, explain to associates why certain things were feasible and why others were out of reach. Having this conversation with employees will make them feel heard and important to the organization, instead of dismissed when their requests seem to be ignored. If there are some requests that are not feasible for the company to do right away, but are very important to associates create a plan of action on how these requests are addressed and inform associate of the plan; better yet have an employee representative or several on the planning committee to witness and participate in the process.
Delegate: Delegate responsibility to trained staff in order to avoid passing customers off multiple times when resolving an issue. Everyone can relate to the frustration of trying to tend to a business issue only to be passed back and forth between departments or staff. Avoid creating this customer frustration by empowering associates to handle customer concerns without fear of reprimand. Teach employees the proper method of handling specific issues, as well as providing them with the bigger picture of their actions to guide them in assisting customers with issues that may not be in the regular scheme of things. When associates are empowered it frees up time for managers and other associates to complete their specific responsibilities that may be put off due to continuing interruptions for associate assistance. Empowered employees also take ownership in the company giving them the drive to do a better job.
Customer Feedback: Make Customers Feel Heard and Respond to them. Take quick surveys, and provide customer feedback cards in easily located areas for customers to grade and comment on the interaction they had. Make sure feedback cards have a place to list the associate who waited on them. Consider placing a pre-printed mailing address on the back for customers who may not have time at that moment to fill out the form to be able to fill it out in the comfort of their home and mail it back. Do not just put the forms out there; read them. It does no good to gather the information simply to ignore it. Respond to customers with issues so that they know they have been heard. This will instill a sense of value with the customer and in some cases defuse an issue that has the potential to escalate.
Easy Contact Options: Make it Easy for Customers to Contact and Communicate with the right person to handle their particular issue. When possible give them a live Person to speak with and do not let them get lost in a seemingly never-ending automated system, which too often happens with large companies in this automated day and age. Provide easy to locate contact information with detailed FAQ’s and department or associate responsibilities to make it easier for consumers to locate the right person to answer their concern.
Follow-Up: Follow-up on concerns to make sure they have been dealt with properly. It is very easy to tell a customer that their issue will be addressed and then get busy and have it fall through the cracks, especially if the issue requires more than one associate or department to work on it. By having a follow-up with the customer procedure for all consumer concerns, fewer issues will fall through the cracks and consumers will feel acknowledged, empowered and loyal to the company. Consumer loyalty is money in the bank for any business; since loyal customers not only continue to provide return business, but they refer their friends and family.
Marketing and branding are only two important pieces to the puzzle of having a successful business. Quality customer service to reinforce a company’s branding is the third vital component. Excellent customer service seems to many consumers to be a thing of the past, and companies who consistently provide above and beyond consumer interactions will be stronger than those who do not.