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Making customer service a top priority pays off on businesses’ bottom line

Last week I discussed the fact that we rarely seem to rave about good or excellent customer service today.

I shared my thoughts on why this has happened. Today let’s talk about what impact average (or worse) customer service can have on businesses and what can be down to address this.

If you are known as an organization that excels in customer service, you will have customers. Period. And your customers will tell their friends about their extraordinary experiences. And those friends will go out of their way to experience extraordinary customer service themselves.

Why?

Because this is so very unusual in today’s environment. A company known for excellent customer service will thrive, prosper and make more money (if you’re a for-profit organization).

If you are the owner or manager, your chest will puff out as people tout your organization’s customer service and you will watch your bottom line increase. If you are a front-line employee, you will feel appreciated by both your supervisors and customers.

Why do I know this? Because organizations that value customer service are INTENTIONAL in their actions with their employees.

Good customer service does not just happen. Companies make it a priority and ultimately the practices and attitudes that are found in excellent organizations become innate and part of the fabric of the company.

Good customer service starts with hiring! If you are hiring a frontline employee who will greet the public either via phone or in person and the person never smiles during the interview, guess what? She will probably not smile while greeting customers. And you can hear this on the phone too!

So ensuring good customer service takes time, effort, training and focus. Most companies today do not want to do the work it takes to change a culture from one of average customer service to a good one.

But let’s say that you are in an organization that wants to improve but are just not sure how to proceed. First, make sure that you really want to improve, because pursuing one of these practices takes time, effort and money, and you will learn a lot.

If you say you plan to change, you need to be committed to do so. I have reminded several companies that it would be better to not pursue this path than to pursue it and do nothing with what you learn.

There are a couple of methods available at your disposal. You might perform a customer-service audit. An audit requires that you look at every aspect of your organization to see if your rules, policies, practices, locations, etc. make it easy or hard for your customers to interact with you.

For example, how many people does a person have to talk with before getting an answer to a standard question? Do you put your callers on hold for extended times or use phone systems that put a caller in “loops” to answer their question? Consider where you get your most complaints. That’s probably an area that needs to be addressed!

Another method that can be used is secret shopping. An external person/firm is hired to shop your firm. You would indicate to the firm what you wanted to learn, regarding customer service (or any other issue), and shoppers would shop your business at various times.

A survey is developed that the shoppers read before they visit the business (so they know what they are looking for) and then they complete the survey after they leave.

I’ve personally worked as a secret shopper for the Vice President of Student Affairs at a previous employer to determine issues with Admissions and Financial Aid (and there were many!). I once had a movie theater client, so I recruited many friends and family members to go to the movies (and the client paid!). I have been a shopper for restaurants, retail stores, and I know a lot of banks use secret shoppers as well.

So if you think your firm might not excel at customer service and you want to do something about it, consider doing an audit or hiring secret shoppers. But be ready to get a dose of reality!

As I mentioned earlier, taking this first step almost requires that you commit to taking the second step, which is addressing the issues uncovered. But it can be worth it. Your organization could be the one that folks are raving about and having raving customers is an excellent objective!

This is one in a series of columns by University of Mary Washington College of Business faculty on various aspects of finance and economics as they affect our readers. Lynne Richardson is the faculty’s dean. Send suggestions for future topics to acordray@umw.edu.

 

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