By CSD Staff
Developing a customer service team that has the skills to provide quality assistance to your customers can be the most straightforward plan if taken step by step.
What can you do right now to strengthen your service team? Read on for tips from Ron Kaufman, a customer service consultant and author of the best-seller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet.
Give them the leeway to make in-the-moment decisions. Empowerment is a buzzword in business, and in theory, we all understand that improved service is unlikely to happen inside or outside of an organization without it. Yet many leaders and employees seem to fear it. If a leader is not confident in her people, she doesn’t want to empower them with greater authority or a larger budget. And if an employee is not confident in his abilities and decisions, he often does not want the responsibility of being empowered.
“Don’t overcomplicate service,” Kaufman said. “Work with your employees to switch their focus from ‘What should I do?’ to ‘Who am I serving and what do they value?’ And then let them know you trust them to make the right decision so that they feel empowered to act.”
Acknowledge achievements. Compliments are highly motivating and inspire employees to keep coming up with newer and better service ideas. That’s why you should: a.) actively solicit feedback from customers, and: b.) regularly share positive comments with employees.
The good thing about acknowledging achievements is that you can get a big impact out of simple actions. For example, simply saying, “thank you” to an employee who handled a customer well or tweeting a message about the employee of the week can go a long way.
Educate and inspire them to serve each other. When most companies set out to fix their service issues, they start with customer-facing employees. Big mistake. The fact is, frontline service people cannot give better service when they themselves aren’t being served internally.
When Kaufman worked with Air Mauritius to kick off its service revolution, they started by addressing the communication problems in its dysfunctional culture, which manifested as bickering, finger-pointing, withholding information, etc.
“First they had to realize that everyone on staff either directly serves the customer or serves those who serve the customer,” Kaufman said. “Everyone had to embrace the service improvement mindset—engineering, ground staff, the technical crew, registration and sales, people at the counters, people at the gate area, people on the aircraft. That meant they had to serve each other as well as the customer.”
Teach them to solicit customer feedback at various points of contact. Asking, “Is there anything we can do better for you the next time?” accomplishes two important objectives. First, you gather valuable ideas. Second, you get the customer thinking about doing repeat business…the next time.
“Even if a customer doesn’t have a recommendation, trust that they’ll be glad your employee cared enough to ask,” said Kaufman. “When an employee engages a customer in this way, it’s yet another way to say, ‘We value you. We want to provide you with the best possible service and we would be delighted to serve you again.’ It also shows your customers that you aren’t afraid of improvement. It shows just how dedicated you are to delivering on your promise of uplifting service.”
Help them find ways to UP service. Imagine you are going up a ski lift and accidentally drop one of your gloves or ski poles into the woods below. At Deer Valley Ski Resort in Utah, the staff helps you find the missing item and then gives you a coupon for a free hot chocolate.
A new Italian restaurant announced their grand opening with great fanfare in the press. The restaurant served an elegant buffet of cold dishes and plenty of wine–all free.
“And here’s an example from my own personal experience,” Kaufman said. “I had a bad experience on an international airline many years ago. I wrote in to complain. They sent me back a very nice letter with a $50 voucher attached! Is that a crazy waste of money? Not at all. It cost me hundreds more to buy a ticket and use the voucher. Plus, they got me back on board another flight to give the airline another chance. Today, years later, I am still a frequent flyer.”
The same lesson can be applied to customer service in retail channels.
“These are great examples of businesses going the extra mile for their customers, and it’s important that you help your employees develop this kind of thinking. In your next staff meeting, review a few customer service recovery interactions, even those that went well,” he said. “Then, have your staff brainstorm ways the recovery could have been improved.”
Train them to tell customers what they will do. When there is a mistake or mishap, explain what steps you will take and when you will get back in touch with the results. Thank them for giving you the opportunity to set things right.
“Of course, the first step when a mistake has been made, or even just when a customer perceives that a mistake was made, is to apologize,” said Kaufman. “Once you’ve apologized, provide any useful information you can about what will happen next. Ask them if they have any questions and answer them to the best of your ability. If you don’t have an answer, let them know what steps you’re going to take to find it.”
“And finally, show you are sincere about your commitment to do well in the areas the customer values,” Kaufman added. “At the very least, you can say, ‘I’m going to make sure everyone in the company hears your story. We don’t want this to happen again.’ When you express the company’s desire to improve, you start on the path to rebuilding its credibility with the customer.”
Encourage them to develop their own signature service touch. Sometimes small service touches can have a big impact. Here’s a fundamental truth of service: Small changes can lead to big leaps in customer perception—and they don’t have to be costly at all.
“For example, Air Mauritius had captains start greeting passengers as they board the plane,” said Kaufman. “This small gesture creates a huge impression of welcome and respect for passengers. It also asked captains to provide memorable information as they fly over certain areas—like descriptions of cities, landmarks, volcanoes and so forth. This literally turned flights into uniquely guided tours. Passengers loved these changes.”
Emphasize service with new hires. Unfortunately, many company orientation programs are far from uplifting. Often they are little more than robotic introductions: ‘This is your desk; this is your password; those are your colleagues; these are the tools, systems and processes we use; I am your boss; and if you have any questions, ask. Welcome to the organization.’ These basic introductions and inductions are important, but they don’t connect new employees to the company or the service culture in a welcoming and motivating way.
“Developing service-minded, service-driven employees will be worth every ounce of energy you put into it,” Kaufman said. “When you take steps to build a strong service team, everyone is fully engaged, encouraging each other, improving the customer experience, and making the company more successful.