Analyzing Your Company's Customer Service

A thorough, honest review of your company's customer service is required; to do anything else would be a waste of time.

You must face reality in today's business world, and you must face the truth about your strengths and weaknesses. That way, you can work with both effectively. You cannot move forward unless you know where you are coming from now as a service provider.

Your current customer service profile

The quickest and easiest way for you to identify your customer service profile is to start with a list of your current customers and build from there. Once you have a thorough and accurate list of customers, build by adding the information obtained from the following questions:

  • What do my customers purchase?

  • What is the amount of the average transaction per customer?

  • When do my customers purchase?

  • Where do my customers live or operate from?

  • How often do my customers purchase?

  • What other questions pertaining to my specific business would help describe customer tendencies?

Self-evaluation with honesty

Now sit down somewhere quiet and removed and take yourself through the following short, simple quiz. It will start you thinking and help you get an idea of where you stand as far as the type of customer service you deliver to your customers.

Use the numbers following to rate your individual, honest response to each of the questions:

0 = Never

1 = On the odd occasion

2 = Regularly

3 = Nearly Always

1. Do I give customers my complete attention during a conversation or use the computer and do other work at the same time?

2. Do I use eye contact to show he or she has my undivided attention?

3. During a phone conversation with a customer, do I use inflection in my voice to indicate that I am interested in what is being said?

4. Do I pick up the telephone by the third ring?

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Customer Relationship Management course?

5. Before putting a customer on hold, do I ask his or her permission and wait for a response?

6. Do I always use language the customer can understand instead of jargon?

7. Do I regularly suggest alternatives if my company cannot provide what my customer is looking for?

8. Do I apologize sincerely when the company or I make a mistake?

9. If customers complain, do I remain calm and polite, even if I consider them wrong and they are upset and rude?

10. How do I view customer complaints? As an opportunity to improve the level of service provided or just an inconvenience to my day?

Now think carefully before you answer the questions and be honest. (You do not have to let anybody else see this.) That way the exercise will be of genuine benefit to you.

0 to 12 points: You provide a reasonably poor level of service.

13 to 22 points: You provide average to good service.

23 to 30 points: You should be proud because your service ranges from good to excellent. Well done!

How does your company rate?

Do not put yourself down if you came out with a poor rating, particularly if you are new to the customer service area. If you have been in customer service for a while, consciously using this and other recommended material will make a world of difference.

If you happened to come out within the "good" service range, you probably have a reasonable understanding of what you should be doing but just are not doing it. You need to take time to figure out why. Is it because you are overwhelmed with responsibility? Are you laboring under stressful conditions? Figure out why so you can get out of the rut.

And if you rate as providing "good" to "excellent' service, you should reward yourself or suggest to your boss that you deserve a reward.

Do not make the mistake of stopping now that you have rated yourself. Get someone else you trust, respect and believe will be honest with you to evaluate your level of service as well. This has a double benefit: (1) You get someone else's viewpoint, and (2) you get an idea of how you treat and relate to others. Come on, you can take the criticism. If you have not been able to until now, learn! You can only gain from it.

Protocols You and your company follow guidelines, rules, and procedures. Protocols stipluate the proper way for you to do something.

There is a great deal of reference material available regarding customer service and management principles. What it really comes down to are the core values involved; i.e., what guides you to perform in a certain way. We assume there are beliefs and values that drive the commitments you give to customers, or there should be. A company is expected to establish these and honor, operate, and live by them.

Let us face it: Technology is changing all the time. Strategies come and go, but the success of your business has more to do with appropriate operating values than with technology. Basically, success relies on how much you care about your customers.

The businesses that will be truly successful are those that stand out as customer-centered and look upon new technologies and online services as opportunities to deliver their existing values and superior levels of service, quality, and excellence to a wider group of customers.

How do you and your company deal with feelings? A number of years ago, senior executives and chief exeutive officers were urged to operate as more customer-centric organizations. In other words, they were urged to be at least as equally focused on the customer as they were on the product. Why? Frankly, we all know products, no matter how good they are, fail occasionally; but a strong bond between the customer and the company will overcome problems or at least soften their impact.
Any business operator these days needs to develop trusting relationships with customers. While a pleasant voice on the telephone and a smiling face are still important in today's business world, these days we often need to ration our telephone and face time and communicate via fax or e-mail. Software and hardware can still be designed and integrated to focus on customer service so that customers do not feel they have been depersonalized.
Your Company's Customer Service Focus
Whether you are a manager or company owner, you must deliver first-rate service to customers and instill the necessity to do so in all your employees.

The path to excellent customer service is not just a case of hiring good people and training staff. It is more a genuine commitment to create a truly customer-focused, rather than an inwardly focused, organization.

In-focused Probably the best way for anyone to understand exactly what an "in-focused" company is to direct the same definition onto a single person. An in-focused person is a selfish person whose only focus is on himself or herself, a person whose only interest is what she or he can get out of a situation. An in-focused company is no different.

In-focused companies are fixated on achieving internal goals that benefit the company, such as cutting costs, earning big profits, and budgeting down to the bare bones. By comparison, customer satisfaction goals are very low on the totem pole, or even nonexistent.

Companies that suffer from the in-focused disease tend to display the following:

  • little or no recognition to staff who accomplish customer service goals but high recognition to those who score internal goals.
  • promotion based on seniority or favoritism rather than merit.
  • little, if any, staff training, particularly in communication skills.
  • departments that do not deal directly with customers failing to recognize their responsibility for customer satisfaction.
  • customer service decisions made by top bosses without consulting staff members who deal directly with customers.

The other side of the coin is the customer-focused company that has one eye on profits and the other on how best to serve its customers. Both characteristics are necessary to establish, grow, and maintain a health operating business. An imbalance too far one way or the other could very well signal the failure of the business.

Some qualities that are typical symptoms of companies that are customer-focused include:

  • Real recognition is given to staff who balance both job efficiency and customer satisfaction.

  • Promotion is based on superior customer service skills, as well as seniority.

  • Staff training is a very definite priority.

  • All staff know their place in the customer service chain and know who their customers are, both internal and external.

  • Staff members are not only given opportunities for input but are actively encouraged to submit feedback on important customer issues.

The customer focus of your company can be measured in a number of ways; for instance, you could design a questionnaire to reveal where your own and your company's customer service rating would stand at the present time. You could assemble a group of four to six co-workers and brainstorm ideas as to what customers would want to see from your organization and what the organization should offer customers. Compare the list to what is actually happening. How does it rate?

Some might say this exercise is subjective, but it can give you and your colleagues an idea of where you presently stand regarding customer service.

The Three Basic Elements of Excellent Service To actively take advantage of the many great customer service ideas on the Internet, in books, and offered by top professionals, it is first necessary to understand the three basic elements of giving great service. Once these elements are mastered, additional ideas can take root and flourish.

This is similar to planting a seedling in the soil. If you have not nurtured and prepared the soil first, any seedling or plant placed in it will struggle and more likely than not die! Rest assured that no amount of positive thinking, smiling, and speaking encouragingly will get that plant, or good service attitude, to grow if the basics have not been taken care of first.

The three basic elements:

1. Make sure you develop a customer-friendly attitude. Customer-friendly companies and individuals view their customers as a very important part of their jobs. They have a sincere appreciation for the importance of the customer and the reasons they do business with them. The quality of communication with a customer is crucial. Those skills help establish and maintain good customer relationships.

2. Expand your own definition of service. Your individual definition of "customer service" molds every interaction with customers.

3. Reconsider who your customers really are. Do you know who your real customers are? "Of course I know," many would answer, but they would most likely be wrong. They probably would think only of their external customers, not their "customers" within their own company; i.e., the people who rely on them for information to do their jobs.

Are you friendly to customers?

Friendliness is one of the most basic customer needs. It includes greeting customers warmly and courteously, while being careful not to allow friendliness to stray to the point of "over-familiarity breeds contempt."

For example, how many times have you returned to a restaurant, boutique, or gas station that has the same products at the same prices as a lot of other places closer to your residence? Why do you do it? Because of friendly, courteous service that is not received elsewhere.

Customer-friendly Reflections Being friendly does not cost anything and can often alleviate a lot of stress in times of frustration or annoyance. For example, once my veterinarian forgot I was coming in with my new pup and went out on a call. I was furious and started to take my anger out on the receptionist, who appeared struck dumb by my tirade. After leaving the practice I realized I had not only been rude but totally unfair, so I retraced my steps and apologized wholeheartedly.

The receptionist was so surprised that she confided that it had happened earlier to a few other people, who also had gotten angry, but none had returned to apologize. She then went out of her way to contact the vet, who subsequently hurried back from her call to treat my dog. So it pays to be pleasant.

Understanding Your Company's Definition of Service While you may have a strong understanding of your individual approach to customer service, do you fully understand your company's broader definition of service? Do you know what the company overall encourages its staff to practice?

Does the company encourage the staff to listen to customers with empathy, particularly when they report a problem? Does the company encourage staff to provide alternatives when the company cannot provide exactly what the customer wants?

If you do not completely understand these points, you need to speak to your supervisors so that you fully appreciate the company's approach to customer service. If you do not agree with some of the detail, consider how best to broach a change with your boss. You never know, he or she may never have considered your observation. Sometimes people have been close to a situation for so long that they miss a valuable point. Be careful how you do approach your supervisor, however. The willingness to consider your comments depends on the nature, character, and attitude of your boss.