Saturday, January 02, 2010

How to Solve your Customer Service Problems

And if you don't think you don't have any problems in this area.... then that is the problem.

Read and learn from Harvey:

Every great business is built on customer service

When I wrote a column on taking care of customers recently, I correctly figured I would receive positive feedback from it. But one negative email stood out to me—because it illustrates an important point so well. That is why companies need to continue to stress customer service and demand nothing less from their employees, even with the most difficult customers.

The individual wrote: "It's the customer's attitude that is the cause of how he/she will be treated by the employee. I'm a sales floor associate at a large discount chain and have experiences where customers approach me with a bad attitude, and ask simple questions in an unkind manner. Customers disrespect employees as if they think they are royalty, and expect employees to bow down to their every need. Does everybody want to get their hand held at every store they visit, and guided through the entire store when there are signs hanging from the ceiling? Also, customers come unprepared and expect employees to know what their issue is when they have no clue what their problem is! Give respect. Get respect."

I understand that some customers can be unbearable. It's tempting to think of what you'd like to say to a difficult customer—the challenge is not saying it. The bottom line is that you have to buck up and do your job. And if you can't, then management needs to find people that can. And by the way, management needs to give employees the authority to help people before things get ugly, or be prepared to step in and handle the matter themselves.

This leads me to another person who wrote me about my earlier column. She had some good advice for people with problems. She explained that her husband retired from General Motors some years ago, as a district manager. When customers had complaints and their problems weren't resolved satisfactorily, people would naturally write to headquarters and those complaints would be sent to her husband.

"99.9% of the time the dealer had no idea there was a complaint and when he found out, the problem was resolved almost on the spot," she wrote. "Those were the good old days! His advice to family and friends is, to this day, if you have a complaint and it isn't resolved, move up the ladder because the boss does not always know what his employees are doing or saying."

She went on to explain that she recently had an issue with a TV at a large electronics chain store. She talked to seven people before the store's general manager resolved the problem. "He knew nothing about my frustration," she wrote. "My husband asked for a bonus for all the problems and he was given a DVD with the TV. My husband said his dealers always gave something (oil change, car wash, etc.) when resolving a complaint, which went a long way in retaining the customer."

Good point. It's a lot easier and less expensive to keep a customer than to find new ones.

The lesson in both of these points is to hire good people and train them properly. Keeping employees motivated to consistently provide high-quality customer service is critical to the survival of any company.

Here are a few tips:

  • Hire the right people. The rule is you either hire smart or manage tough. Hiring smart is better, but it requires you to know what you're looking for and to recognize the skills and attitude you want. Look at experience, and listen to your gut.
  • Keep score. If you don't measure performance, your team will be in perpetual warm-up mode. Let employees know that you are judging their performance and why it's relevant to them, their customers and the organization's bottom line.
  • Reward. Make sure you reward the desired outcome. For instance, if you want your salespeople to create relationships and long-term accounts, reward them with back-end commissions or a recognition program.
  • Practice what you preach. If you want a motivated customer-service rep, you need to be motivated yourself first. Are you genuinely excited about the work your group produces? You need to love your customers, because if you're not sincerely motivated yourself, you'll never motivate other people to provide service par excellence.

Mackay's Moral: No customer service will lead to no customers.

Miss a column? The last three weeks of Harvey's columns are always archived online.

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