“In a world where people are choice rich and time poor, it is more important than ever to win, delight and retain your customers to ensure that your business thrives for years to come.” – Paul Beesley
This is a great quote – it lucidly and succintly describes the customers of today and what companies need to do to keep them long enough.
To remain in shape we as individuals exercise, eat healthy and do ‘what the doctor ordered’. (Well, at least some of us!). Companies to stay in shape too need some kind of ‘exercise and fitness regime’ to keep their business and customer service in shape. Reality is that if customer service is working well, then customers are pleased and the business will remain in shape. Enhanced levels of customer service are possible through regular training and coaching. Treat this important activity as the fitness mantra to keep your customer service in shape. How much in shape your business is in would be known by the number of customers that approach you, how many stay long enough, the number of them that provide repeat business and which of them will get others to become customers. Keep your customer service in shape if you want your customers to keep showing these signs and also to stop your company from getting ‘breathless’ and ultimately stop functioning.
Your front-line customer service team is the first and single most important entity for your company in determining whether people will become customers and how long they will stay. It is their behaviour, knowledge, skill and passion that will either create memorable experiences for your customers or make them run in panic towards your competitors instead. Their demeanour will affect how customers perceive your company. Given that your customer service can make or break your business it is more than prudent to ensure that you keep your customer service in shape by meticulous attention to their training, coaching and well-being. We know that you probably agree with this and are perhaps even crinkling your brow trying to imagine what you can do – the fact is you have to go out and do it. Just thinking about it won’t make your company stand head and shoulders over your competition, will it! What are some of the ideas you have had or implemented? We give you some of ours.
- Start at the beginning! What an obvious suggestion – this is probably your first thought given that there is no other way! We mean hire right – start to get your customer service in shape right at the outset by hiring people who display the right attitude and mind-set – one of empathy and understanding. It is much easier to teach skills and develop product knowledge but it is a lot tougher to get people to ‘learn’ how to feel for someone else. If a person’s philosophy in life is to get and do what’s best for them only and never to care for another, this person would probably be a complete misfit for customer service. For example, a friend is a mathematics wiz in a number of ways, but ask her to teach it and tell us how and she fumbles and behaves like a complete numb-skull – we tease her so often about this. Unless she knows what the dissemination of that knowledge means and how to do it, she will never be able to. Similarly, someone could have great product knowledge, excellent computer and phone skills but unless they can put these into practice, they could pass this onto customers as customer service, they would be quite useless.
- When you have hired ‘right’, finding people that match your company’s culture, outlook and customer-centric approach, provide them with the right training. Training must be on-going and effective, there must be a robust structure and standardized ‘regime’ that must be woven seamlessly in to the work environment of the company. Ensure that a training program schedule is put in place at the start of the year. A mandatory number of training hours for each person must be defined and cemented by adding it to the KPIs for each staff member. This may seem like a ‘regimented approach’ but it makes staff share the ownership of getting trained. The training programs must also be constantly monitored and updated regularly. There must be consistent and focused examination on the effects and benefits of the training programs on the staff. The desired outcome of each program must get manifested in the working, attitudes and overall results of the customer service teams. If your training programs are keeping your customer service in shape, then you know that they are working, else change them for the better. Get feedback directly from the end-users of these programs – the customer service staff. Their inputs will prove invaluable to enhance the quality and impact of these training programs.
- While training is vital for both new and current staff, the company’s ‘newcomers’ would need a bit of extra attention. Ensure that there is a formal and well-structured induction program in place for them. For customer service staff especially, understanding the company’s culture, products, service, kinds of customers and expectations from customer service is crucial to their success and ultimately how customers will view the company. Unless they are convinced of what their company stands for, they would be unable to convey it effectively to customers. They must understand how their own goals tie in to the company’s goals and what their contribution would mean for the company’s success and also their own. Give them pertinent instructions, written if required, on specifics – for example the greeting used to answer the phone – this always varies from company to company. Most importantly never assume they know just because they have prior experience. If you assume they know, they will too and that’s where the mismatch happens. Clear, concise and ambiguity free communication is absolutely vital at this stage – teach them correct here and then build on it as they move along with you.
- You could try out the option of on-the-job-training too. Of course, ensure that you don’t put these ‘trainees’ in the line of fire immediately. Allow them to shadow the experienced customer service staff for a while, then practice their learning in a mock customer service environment. Once they seem fit to handle customers, then get them to handle some customers to start with. We would not recommend using these trainees at your complaints desk – it is a highly stressful and high pressured setting which they may not initially be able to handle. Phase out the training – teach them, help them overcome any hesitations, let them absorb and understand the differences and appreciate the customer base diversity first. If your company is in a hurry to get staff to start work, you will not be able to blame them if they don’t learn or pick up some ‘incorrect’ ways of handling this crucial function. Keeping customer service in shape is your responsibility to start with.
- Ensure that manuals, structured instructions, clearly laid out rules and regulations and other miscellaneous guidelines are always available and always updated. These can be either in electronic form or written or both. Staff must be trained to refer to these whenever in doubt and also to keep their skills and knowledge updated. Having these readily available removes any chance of ambiguity and uncertainty. Ensure that these mandatory documents are read and understood by the staff – get them to sign a training and learning agreement, a copy of which should be in their employee file – this makes it amply clear to all that your company holds the structured approach to training and customer service as non-negotiable.
Keeping your customer service in shape is a common-sense and extremely vital approach to ensure the longevity and success of your company and business. Is your customer service in shape or is it ‘sagging’?