How to reverse the forgotten art of customer service

Every generation believes they have made a breakthrough on a concept that has been around for decades. One such concept is “the art of customer service”. Out of curiosity, I searched for topics on customer service, the list of resources was endless.  The concepts were the same just put in a different perspective or style. The issue with customer service is not the lack of knowledge, but the lack of consistently applying what we have learned.

Customer loyalty

I took a quick look around to see what brands I have surrounded myself with; the one brand that would be in the top 3 list is “Samsung”. My laptop, mobile phone, DVD player, and television are all products of “Samsung”. My loyalty to Samsung was established without talking to one single representative from the company. The influence of friends and family were a major part of my decision to be a loyal customer of Samsung. The television I recall being in my parents’ home was made by Samsung. The phone that my friend trusted was made by Samsung.

Customer loyalty goes far beyond convincing a previous customer to continue to buy from a specific organization. Customer loyalty is building a relationship where a previous customer not only continues to buy from a specific organization but becomes an extension of that organization. My friends and family became marketers, tech support, and sales reps for Samsung without even realizing it. Due to my family and friend’s excellent customer service and our relationship, it established my loyalty to Samsung. One key to establishing and maintaining this kind of customer relationship is the perception of service.

Perception of service

Is it possible that two people have a totally different perception of an event they both shared? If you talk to a couple after their first date and ask them, “how was it?” it may not be that unusual for one to say, “It was great!”, and the other to say, “It was horrible!” However, if you ask the couple, “How was it for the other person?” they will usually expect them to feel the same way they felt about the first date, which in most cases is absolutely false. This scenario plays out between first time/returning customers and organizations daily.

The customer has certain expectations when dealing with an organization, which is a resolution to the issue. The most frustrating obstacle is “waiting”! Am I the only one to attempt to contact an organization, and then be put through a maze of automated options; which either loops me back to square one or disconnects me? Eventually, I am connected to an actual human being, who is not guaranteed to speak and understand English.  Sometimes technology can make things harder than they should be, especially when I call with a simple question. Immediately I feel like I’m put in a catch-all barrel and given a generic solution to my issue.

The organization has certain expectations when dealing with a customer. There is a checklist designed by the organization of things that should be done during every interaction with a customer. Once that checklist is fulfilled, in the eyes of the organization, the customer is satisfied.  The organization has no idea that the loyalty of the customer is dwindling with each interaction until it is finally extinguished. This process does not just apply to the customer, but also to the employees of the same organization. Customer service always starts at home.

Customer service starts at home

I have the unique advantage to be able to speak from both sides of being a customer, and an employee of an organization that provides customer service to a myriad of companies. Whether you are happy or unhappy with your career choice, it is made known immediately during everyday conversation.  Frustration and negativity ooze out of your personality; when you are unhappy with your job. It may not be apparent to you, but it is to the customers that you interact with daily. If you are not happy with the organization, why should the customers trust that their needs will be met by that same organization? What happens? What brings an employee to this dark place?

When an organization allows low morale to take up permanent residence, an employee’s attitude towards work will rapidly become hopeless.  There is a thrill when you are part of something that you can actually see is making a difference. Hopelessness does not allow the employee to feel that what they do makes a difference or even matters. When organizations restructure due to layoffs, the remaining employees are required to do more with little or no increase in the rate of pay or equipped with the proper training.

Overworked employees are not able to reach their full potential while trying to meet quotas designed for other skill sets. Instead of having a happy employee willing to go the extra mile to achieve goals far beyond expectations, organizations are filled with unhappy employees ready to quit and not look back at any given moment. Organizations blindly categorize this high turnover rate as “the nature of the beast”, and deem it as unavoidable. One method that an organization may attempt to ensure that policy is carried out and productivity are increased is “micromanagement”.

Micromanagement is the devil

The way organizations deal with their own team/employees has to be evaluated differently than it has in the past. Organizations must practice what they preach by exhibiting the same level of excellence toward their team/employees, which they expect their employees to exhibit concerning meeting the needs of the customers.  Sadly some organizations choose to implement micromanagement as a one size fits all solution.

Micromanagement is an organization screaming at the top of their lungs to an employee saying “I don’t trust you to do your job, so I’m going to do it for you!” Micromanagement is the final nail in the “hopelessness coffin,” and removes any remaining traces of hope that the situation may turn around in a positive direction. I have devoted an entire article on the topic of micromanagement, so I will stop here and share my complete thoughts at a later time. What an organization values most is what they invest the most resources, time, and effort into consistently. This concept is known as the ‘company values’.

The art of customer service and company values

Company values are more than just the words written on the “About Us” page of their website, the 30-second commercial airing at random times throughout the day, or even the PowerPoint presentation shown in the orientation for newly hired employees. Company values are the actions of the organization put into practice every day by management. They are at the heart of the art of customer service.  They are also imitated by the employees.

Gratitude should be at the forefront of the first impression made by an organization. Gratitude that the customer chose to do business with us and that the employee chose to be a part of the team. Some organizations may laugh at this statement when there are fifty applicants waiting in line to fill a position, and sales are meeting expectations. However, that is fifty more individuals that an organization has to invest in to train, correct costly mistakes common to new hires, and lose the rich wisdom/experience of a veteran employee. Customers also join in on the laughter when they know there are fifty more organizations that offer the same product with better service and rates. What happens when an employee feels “valued” by an organization?

  • Work becomes more than just putting food on the table and paying bills
  • The position stops being a job that they hate and becomes a career that they love
  • A sense of pride and accomplishment becomes contagious
  • An employee is inspired to reach their full potential

Quantity over quality

When an organization chooses quantity over quality, it only looks good on paper. The sales don’t accurately reflect the quality of service. Customers that don’t feel valued will be lost in the long run, they hang on only by the memories of the loyalty they once had for the organization. What happens when customers feel “valued” by an organization?

  • One time sales become repeat business
  • Customers are less likely to complain about price increases
  • Sometimes customers become an extension of the organization
  • Customers will be more understanding when something unexpected occurs

Company values should constantly be reviewed to ensure they are not compromised. The core values should not be changed but applied differently to meet the changing needs of the customer and employee. Once an organization has mastered the forgotten art of customer service it will propel the company in the right direction.  Over time the organization will be renowned not only as a premier place to do business but also as a fulfilling place to start a career.