Setting Standards of Customer Service within your Company

“Good customer service begins at the top. If your senior people don’t get it, even the strongest links further down the line can become compromised.” – Richard Branson

In the previous exposition, we spoke about keeping customers committed and how it contributes to the overall success of a company. We will look at setting standards of customer service in this exposition – standards that will draw customers in and keep them committed. While great products and services are essential, they form only one part of entire gamut of the relationship between a company and its customers. The major aspect, as dictated by customers, is service. Customers want top class service, irrespective of the industry or brand, and in fact, the companies that do not have any products, the only thing connecting them with customers, is the kind of service they provide.

Setting standards of customer service within the company is important simply because this service is paramount for customers. For the company it would mean enhancing its capabilities, thereby increasing its potential to attract more customers, better employees, and manage its business even better. Service standards let customers know what they should and can expect, and serve as guidelines for those within the organization on how to conduct themselves and the responsibilities they have towards customers. By setting standards of customer service, a company is essentially putting in place maxims of how customers should be treated, the best practices each person should follow, and the ill effects of poor customer service. Given that customer service is not something that comes easily to everyone, it would be prudent for a company to weave the standards in to the set guidelines and operating procedures of its business. Anything that is documented is easier to refer back to and is treated with a lot more seriousness, as compared to rules that are not written but ‘understood’. A documented set of service standards would help employees understand them well, allow the HR department to ‘educate’ new employees, and serve as directives for all to perform well with regard to customer service.

Setting standards of customer service within a company would help it monitor and improve its service to customers, in line with business objectives. Set standards ensure that each person understands the consequences of abiding by them or defaulting, keeping the standards uniform across the company. They become a clear expectation a company has from its employees, and prove to be an invaluable training tool not just for new entrants but also for the service and marketing teams. A written document would ensure that a company is able to publish the service standards on its website, social sites, and physical locations – where customers can see them too and perceive the company’s commitment to serving them well. Customers can provide feedback and insights to the company, thereby ensuring that these standards are consistently high and constantly improved.

A company must set service standards that would be in accordance with the products or services it provides. A service company for example might need to commit responses within 24 hours, while a company selling products could commit to replacing defective products in 48-72 hours. Whatever the company can do effectively is what should go in to the service standards, and the written document must clearly specify contact details of the company – phone numbers, email addresses, and information on who they may contact in case they remain dissatisfied with responses and would want to escalate an issue. Providing such details tells customers that the company is open-minded and transparent, and willing to sort out any discrepancies to ensure their customers remain satisfied. Before setting standards of customer service, a company must not only understand its customers, but also keep abreast with current market trends in terms of standards and the general expectations that customers would have from a company it is in business with.

It would make sense for a company to know what its competitors do with regard to service standards. If it cannot exceed those standards, staying at par would allow the company to stay competitive. It is important that standards set are high, but what is even more critical is that they are achievable and measurable. Setting goals and standards without these boundaries would be ludicrous and would serve to irritate customers, making them believe that the company is trying to fool them. It would be necessary to continually assess their effectiveness and make changes if something does not seem to work as well as it should. Some companies have service standards compliance teams in place to ensure that each person within the company adheres to the standards. Their duty additionally would be to check back with customers to ensure that there is no gap between what they expect and what the company provides. This kind of proactive service enhances the confidence and trust customers have in a company, which in turn would keep them loyal and providing repeat business.

Setting standards of customer service and making them public takes a lot of courage and confidence on the part of a company. Being transparent about what it can and will do customers, puts a company in a position of strength and vulnerability – at the same time. While some customers could applaud their efforts of being open and honest, others could try to manipulate the standards to gain more advantages. However, the good part of setting and making service standards accessible to all, is that they protect the company from ‘scheming’ customers trying to squeeze out more from the company than they are entitled to. Some customers could be in the habit of escalating every small issue, for example, and these service standards would serve to set limits on which issues can be escalated and which ones could be handled at the most basic level. For employees too, the written set of service standards can serve as ‘the holy book’, which would prevent them, being bullied by particularly difficult customers.

By understanding customer needs and expectations, a company would be able to put in place practical and easily measurable service standards. Basics such as wait times, response timelines, refund and return policies, shipping terms, exchange policies and such service standards, may seem simple but can quickly lead to trouble if they are not documented and made known. Employees too have a better sense of what is expected of them and the amount of flexibility they may have with regard to certain actions and which areas are non-negotiable – such as politeness and courtesy to all customers. Being able to please customers is not an easy task and companies that fail to put service standards in place, are certainly inviting trouble and doom on their business.

We know that it is harder to attract customers than it is to retain them – and when customers leave due to poor service, it becomes almost impossible to get them back. Losing customers repeatedly creates a dent in the bottom line of a company and brings about many other problems such as loss of market reputation, extensive employee attrition, lowered revenue, and profitability, and over time complete decline. Setting standards of customer service will save a company huge costs and are worth the investment of time and effort – customers deserve the best and if they receive top class service consistently, they are unlikely to leave the company. Customer service is a factor of how each person in a company makes the customers feel and the overall impression they leave on each customer through every interaction.

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