Understanding the Keys to Good Customer Service
Many businesses want to achieve good customer service. Right now that's the brass ring of business training and vision-casting. Many companies are analyzing their current mission and realigning it, to become increasingly customer-focused.
But is this effective? Before we can consider the current state of customer service, we need to look at past customer service to understand today's situation.
In the golden years of American commerce, from about 1945 to 1970, the economy was flush with money, and people had plenty to spend. Inflation was low, the post-war economy was good, and the future was bright. Someone during this time period could get a well-paying job, buy a nice house and a car very easily, on a single income, and still have money left over to squirrel away. It's not an accident that this time period coincided with the baby boom. With plenty of money and a social attitude supporting large families, the world was a very different place than it is today. Everything was big-- families, bank accounts, cars, and dreams.
Loyalty was important to people at that time and that loyalty was seen in how people shopped. You might have had parents or grandparents in that generation and they were very likely Buick men, meaning that they bought Buicks and that's all they ever bought, or Oldsmobile men, etc. While the men worked and bought cars, the women stayed home and raised the children.
Times were different then!
Today, for a variety of reasons, we have many different attitudes.
Jobs do not pay as well.That is, they may pay more than yesteryear but the income/expense ratio in our lives is different, with expenses being disproportionately higher compared to our income. As a result, it can be harder to buy a car and a house on a single income. Often, both people in a relationship choose to work -- a product not only of financial necessity, but also of social acceptance. Smaller families are the norm. People need to be much more disciplined in order to save for the future.
As a result, customer loyalty has diminished. People need to shop by the price and the value that they receive from the product, much more than they did before. Today, it is not as easy to simply commit to buying one brand and ONLY that brand, excluding all others, because so many companies are competing with lower prices and trying to offer a better value. In addition, people have come to expect higher standards of service. After all, there are many more options out there, so why would you keep going to the same store again and again, if they did not treat you well, while someone is down the street who will treat you better?
From a customer's perspective, this makes perfect sense. We want to be treated reasonably and we want to get a good value. This may not have occurred in our grandparent's day but loyalty kept them going back. Today we need to shop around.
But from a company's perspective, this can be a challenge. After all, how do you get customers to shop at your place of business? You can only compete by lowering your price so much. There HAS to be something else that you can do to encourage customers to visit your store.
Customer service is the key. Providing good customer service is one of the only ways that we can now generate any customer loyalty at all. Companies want customers and they understand that customers want good service, and they will visit a store that provides it.
One of the problems that many companies have is in their definition of good customer service. Companies create measurable standards of customer service and expect their staff to adhere to those standards. They measure those standards and compare them over time to see if there is a growth or a decline.
While that is a noble undertaking, it often starts from a flawed beginning -- the definition of good customer service.
When a company defines good customer service it often includes such things as:
These are good things to work toward but what makes them flawed is that companies strive for this and measure it, and miss the point: the things above are not good customer service. The above list is how one human should treat another. It is the bare minimum of interaction between people. And yet, many companies take this to be their goal.
They use terms like, "Satisfy the customer." to encourage their staff, then they wonder why they're losing customers.
The answer is that they are satisfying customers, but the customers are finding better value and better service elsewhere.
Good customer service is not about satisfying the customer, it is about "wowing" the customer. It's about making the customer walk in, do business, and walk out again, absolutely stunned that their transaction was so enjoyable.
If companies are doing just the bare minimum, which is often the case, they are simply biding their time until their customers go somewhere else.
When a customer enters a store they expect to be treated like a human being. If not, they will complain. If they are treated like a human being, they will buy their product and leave, and the company won't even earn a blip on that person's radar. However, if the company goes out of its way to stun the customer with amazing customer service, that customer will become loyal, and not only that, they will tell their friends and their family.
This article is about providing stellar customer service. It makes the assumption that you are already treating your customers like human beings by providing valuable, helpful service, courteous attitudes, and a smile. Those are simply the basics; they are not good customer service.
This article will show you how to give good customer service.
For the purposes of consistency and clarity, this article will be using one example throughout the rest of the articles, of a single individual customer in a retail store purchasing a product. You will be the owner or manager of that store. However, the lessons can apply to any type of sales situation: business to business, a company's internal customers, for example, other departments, or online-only customers.
From time to time, we may differentiate between these different types of customer- business relationships but, in general, we'll still refer to those as if they were one person walking into a retail store to buy goods.
So where do we start to ensure that you're giving good customer service? Let's start at the very beginning.

First impressions
The first impressions of a customer are important and they start before the customer even walks through the door. First impressions are formed by your marketing efforts, by word of mouth when someone hears about your business, and even by the cleanliness of your parking lot. To make sure that first impressions are positive, you'll want to take these steps.
  • Review your marketing efforts to ensure that they are of good quality.
  • Commit to providing good customer service to ensure that customers are saying positive things about you to their friends and to their family.
  • Walk around the outside of your business and look at it from your customer's point of view. Is there trash in the parking lot? Do your signs look clean, well lit, and professional? Are your windows clean? Is there parking available?
Attitude Once your customer has walked through the door, they will likely be greeted by a staff member. What kind of attitude are they greeted with? If it is anything less than positive enthusiasm and sincere appreciation, then you'll want to retrain your staff. There are many times when the staff sees customers as intrusions to their day, rather than as welcome additions to their day. This happens when the staff has a lot of additional non-sales work to do or when they are only paid until closing. For example, if someone comes in five minutes before closing and interrupts the staff member while they are counting the money in the till, that employee may not exhibit a positive attitude towards the customer.
One retail outlet had a staffing problem. Employees were quitting constantly and no new employees were being hired. For three weeks the outlet had only 3 employees, instead of the usual 12 it needed. The regional head office did not move staff from other locations and it would not reduce the administrative requirements placed on the staff. How do you think customers were treated? Do you think the telephones were answered? Do you think the staff were cordial to customers who walked in unannounced? What do you think the staff's reaction was when a customer grew angry at the lack of service?
Unfortunately, this is a true story. At the end of those three weeks no adequate staffing solution was found, and one of those staff members quit. What's even more unfortunate is that this example, while extreme, is not uncommon. Companies have a responsibility to enable employees to maintain good, positive attitudes. They can do this by creating a positive work environment that is adequately staffed, and by making adjustments for special situations, such as the severe 3 week staffing shortage.
To solve this potential attitude problem consider some of these ideas
  • Pay employees to come in half an hour before the store opens and to stay half an hour after the store closes. This might cost you a little extra but at least your employees will not start their closing routine until after the store is closed.
  • Pay your employees a commission, on top of their wage, or a bonus, for the number of sales made during the day. This will remind them that every customer who walks through the door is paying them, and in a sense, paying them directly. Therefore, the customer should be greeted with a great attitude.
  • Measure the busy and slow times in your building and adjust staff accordingly. If it is very busy for 3 hours, hire a part time staff member and make sure that you do not require other administrative tasks to occur during that time.
  • Make the importance of each task clear in an organized, step-wise manner. For example, one company did not do that and said, "Everything is important." The result was that customers would be waiting in line while the sales staff answered the busy telephones. A better practice would have been to say, "Face-to-face customers come first, telephones comes second."
  • Hire a staff member to only do sales and hire someone else to do administrative work, with an occasional sale. This way, the sales person can best focus on greeting customers and making them happy, without the additional burden of thinking about other things that they have to do.
While your attitude should be positive, there is another aspect to customer service that needs to be mentioned. It can be called a number of different things, but we will refer to it in this article, as approach. It is the way in which you provide customer service. In all cases, you need to provide customer service that wows the customer. To best do this, you need to understand the needs of the customer, and then to go above and beyond those needs to be successful. We will talk more about this approach in the next chapter, entitled, "Putting the Customer First."
Every person who walks through the door is potentially someone who is going to give you money. That money will pay your employees, keep your business going, and feed your family. Make sure that you give each and every person great customer service, so that they will happily give you their money - in exchange for goods or services, of course! - and come back again.