Customer Service – Avoiding the Slippery Slope

Dear Ken Keller,

With a few exceptions, the places I do business provide poor customer service. I’ll be the first to admit I am an impatient person, and I get angry at stuff faster than most people, so I do tend to be more critical than others. Let me share some examples:

The other day I went to a new doctor, a referral from my primary care physician. I arrived early and no one even acknowledged my presence for 25 minutes. When they did call my name, they didn’t bother to say either hello or welcome. To them, I was just a number.

Last weekend I spent close to a couple of hundred dollars at the grocery store and the clerk didn’t bother to say, “Thank you for shopping with here.” I got handed a receipt and a bunch of coupons.

I hear “no problem” when I would rather hear “my pleasure.”

I say all of this because I fear that without paying attention to things in my business, the high quality of customer care we provide will quickly disappear, and “we” will become like all the others – not acknowledging or even practicing the basics of courtesy to those that spend money with us.

How can I prevent my company from going down a path we cannot easily recover from? – Jerry S.

Dear Jerry:

Excellent customer care can be a sustainable competitive advantage, and you are wise to focus on it. Maintaining that image at your company and working to improve it pays dividends.

As you have highlighted in your day-to-day encounters with what you believe to be poor service, it really boils down to having the right people on your payroll saying and doing the right things.

What many owners fail to understand is that the care of the customer is not just outwardly focused; as in, focused on the companies or individuals that opt to provide revenue to the company in exchange for goods and services.

There are two other aspects to customer care. The first, often talked about but rarely acted upon, is the need for improved internal customer focus. If internal departments and the people in them are not communicating and haven’t agreed to the terms of conditions of working to take care of each other, the ultimate goal of taking care of the revenue generating clients will fail.

If you can work on this part of your business, engaging all employees to treat each other as customers, service levels will improve and you will have an aligned organization.

The second is to take care of business partners, those individuals and companies providing goods and services so that employees can take care of each other and your revenue generating clients.

This will probably take time to develop, but if you can find partners sincerely focused on your company’s success and vice versa, your supply chain will be aligned. This alignment is worth a lot of money.

How do you get started? Knowing and communicating what you consider unacceptable service to clients, to fellow employees and to business partners and suppliers is a good educational tool. If people know what not to do or say, that is often enough to make a difference.

It is also important for you to make a priority of getting those employees who are not visible to your customers to places where they are visible. My experience is that employees who are removed from revenue generating clients are the people who have no idea of the potential negative impact they have on their own company’s fortunes. Your job is to address this possible outcome.

Finally, I recommend that you consider spending time at the Zappos campus in Southern Nevada to learn how this fast-growing company has taken the customer service experience to the next level.

You will be impressed by what you learn there and at some point you might want to send some of your employees too.