“Don’t make promises unless you will keep them. Not plan to keep them. Will keep them. Reliability is one of the keys to any good relationship, and good customer service is no exception.” – Susan Ward
We know that in today’s business world, top class customer service is what differentiates one company from another, and provides a competitive edge to the customer focused ones. The ability to provide service excellence is not something that happens on its own – it requires relentless efforts, focus, effort, investment of resources, and a robust customer service plan. Nothing can work or sustain for too long without a meticulous plan and flawless execution of the plan – it is the same with a plan to serve customers. A customer service plan must be woven into the ‘fabric’ and culture of the company, and should be part of the overall strategic plan of the company, in order for it to be accepted and put into action by everyone in the company. The customers of today refuse to settle for less, and are quick to ‘dump’ companies that seem less than enthusiastic about responding to and meeting their needs.
A formal customer service plan ensures that everyone in the company understands the importance and crucial nature of customer service and the role they can play in ensuring that customers remain happy and engaged with the company. The goal of a customer service plan should be to delight customers such that they continue spending money with the company, provide enhanced business, and bring their friends, family, and associates to buy a company’s products and services regularly. Does your company have a formal and sustainable customer service plan? If yes, is it working well and providing your company with the advantages it deserves?
In creating a customer service plan, a company must first seek feedback from customers on certain parameters and factors. Post receiving the feedback, it would be prudent to create a list of all the parameters that customers would have rated as critical and important, and assess your company’s abilities against each. Doing so would tell your company how well or not it is functioning, and which areas need immediate improvement. The more a company can align itself to its customer’s needs, the greater its chances at building a loyal customer base and gaining success.
Many companies make the mistake of excluding employees when creating a customer service plan. This is a flawed strategy since employees would be the ones to implement the plan. They must have a clear understanding of how the customer service plan fits in with the vision and long-term goals of the company, and their responsibility in achieving those goals and vision. In addition, on-going and relentless training and coaching opportunities would be essential to teach and enhance customer service skills for all employees – not just the service staff. Since customer demands have grown, it is not possible for any company to provide top class service without the support of each person therein, and in any case, customers expect to be able to connect with a company through any means and via any employee.
A robust customer service plan should contain a number of possible strategies that would enable your company’s policies and operations to keep pace with the changing needs and expectations of customers. It is critical to keep a focus on the ‘weak points’ of the company, such that it becomes easier to realign the strategies to overcome these weaknesses. It would be prudent to seek the advice and feedback of the customer service employees too – they are the ones who deal directly and daily with customers and would have some valuable insights on how best to care for and serve customers. In addition, they would be the ones to identify what they need to do their job more efficiently, and provide increasingly good customer service to all customers.
Once there is agreement on a strategy or a set of strategies from all those involved, it would be necessary to put in place measures to monitor and measure the outcome of the strategies. After some time, it would be prudent to check back with the same set of customers to ascertain if they perceive any positive changes and check with a set of employees to understand how much better and efficient their daily tasks would have become. Based on the feedback from both these key groups, a company can tweak and tighten the customer service plan, keeping it flexible and adaptable to needs and changes as time elapses. Such meticulous thought processes and action is critical to the creation and sustenance of a customer service plan and a company culture immersed in serving customers.
A company’s customer service plan would be successful only if the leadership and top line people in the company show dedication and interest towards top class customer experiences. The service plan must be conveyed and put into action by the top person in the company such that all others emulate the thinking and action required to keep customers happy. For the service plan to merge successfully with the business’ goals, it should be part of the company’s overall strategy, and part of the individual’s goals and performance criteria of all employees.
It is imperative that the customer service plan is agile and flexible such that it can incorporate the changes in customer needs, while ensuring that valuable resources of the company are fruitfully used. Moving and keeping pace with the changing needs of customers will ensure that a company utilizes its resources to create products and services that customers would deem useful, eliminating any guesswork. It becomes necessary for a company to consistently ascertain what customers want, and ensure that the customer service plan incorporates the most current and possibly future needs. It is not possible to provide for the needs of customers without a proper understanding of their exact requirements. A strong customer service plan would make time and assess resources required to solicit customer feedback through various means such as online comments, formal feedback surveys, online and offline discussion groups, customer advisory boards, and other such forums from which to gain customer feedback.
The good news is that with the rise in technology, a company would have several tools at its disposal to assess customer needs and expectations, and hence be able to put in place a more robust customer service plan. A company must however, remain mindful that customer expectations, moods, needs, and emotions are unlikely to remain stagnant and stable – they are changing constantly and unless a company can keep pace, providing top class service would remain only on paper.
Within the company, each person must be accountable for their actions with regard to service to customers. In order to display the seriousness of this aspect, a company must have a meticulous and planned reward and recognition system in place to acknowledge the efforts of all those employees who make a genuine effort at providing good customer service. Rewards and recognition provide positive reinforcement – ensuring that employees repeat their good behaviour, while encouraging others to ‘step up’ their performance in the area. When everyone in the company would work together to ensure top class service, the company would soon be able to boast of a nonpareil service culture, giving it a competitive edge over its ‘rivals’.
A strong customer service plan is essential to build and sustain a broad and loyal customer base. It would be able to assess the perceptions and expectations of customers, and serve as a guide for the company to align it with the needs and wants of its customers. Every company must know how to create a proper and executable customer service plan, in order to remain highly competitive in the challenging and ‘scary’ business world of today.