Any sports coach worth his whistle will tell you that you must first learn, practice, and master the fundamentals if you’re going to be truly great in your sport.
That same philosophy is true of your business: your sales and service team needs to learn, practice, and master the fundamentals of customer service if you’re going to have a truly great service business.
Continuing the sports analogy, many businesses are playing without a good grasp of these fundamentals. They hope to win the game, but are not familiar with the playing field.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the fundamentals of customer service by answering the essential “Five W” questions.
If you type “customer service definition” into Google, you’ll receive 46 million search results. That’s at least 45 million more than necessary, I think. Simply stated, customer service is the act of serving the customer during any type of interaction with your business. Customer service interactions occur any time a customer interacts with your business, from initial point-of-sale interactions on the phone or face-to-face to post-sale follow-up calls and every customer/employee touch point in between.
All of those customer interactions ultimately add up to the customer experience. Every customer service interaction – whether a new sales opportunity or handling a complaint – is an opportunity to improve or diminish the customer experience.
There are many business benefits to providing superior customer service. At the top of the list, consumer research has proven that customers will pay 20% to 25% more for goods or services if they come with better service. With that, superior customer service becomes a key driver of profitability.
With superior service, a customer’s satisfaction with his or her shopping experience improves dramatically, leading to increased sales today and repeat sales tomorrow. Additionally, happier customers tend to become advocates on social media and provide referrals, increasing sales further. Plus, better service and fewer complaints also improve workplace culture with happier, more productive employees.
That’s a lot of reasons why, but we still haven’t covered perhaps the most important one, as it’s the launching pad for all the other benefits: competitive differentiation. I cannot emphasize this reason enough.
Take a product like Sam Adams beer. The maker of Sam Adams, Boston Beer Co., can successfully claim it has a better product as it crafts its beer, as detailed on the companys’ website, “using a time-honored four-vessel brewing process, and the world’s finest all-natural ingredients.” Sam Adams award-winning distinction is tangible, something customers can taste. If your business offers products or services that are the same, or similar, to your competition than a tangible distinction does not exist and you must rely on superior customer service as your primary competitive differentiator.
Everyone. As every employee either directly or indirectly serves customers, everyone in your business is in customer service. Accordingly, customer service, and your customer service training efforts, should not be limited to just those employees that work in a specific customer service position.
This is not the case with the average business that only trains who it considers to be the customer-facing employees. This can, and often does, create landmines in the business.
As an example, when a customer walks into your business through a side or back door and has a less than warm and fuzzy interaction with one of your employees, that customer does not think, “Oh, my fault. I should have entered through the front door where the employees are all trained on how to treat me properly.”
Remember, all employees represent your brand. It only takes one poor interaction to damage the customer’s perception of your customer service and brand.
Above all, a successful customer service culture begins with the commitment and active participation of leadership. That means owners and managers must be actively involved in the customer service effort, lead by example and continuously demonstrate high customer service standards and proper behaviors.
Everywhere. Just as customer service should not be limited to select employees or a department, it also has to be present and accounted for everywhere in your business.
Customers form impressions of your service based on their senses – everything they can see, hear, touch, and, yes, even smell, in your business. In store, on the phone, via email support, on your website, and every other touch-point customers have with your business must be optimized to enhance the customer experience.
All the time. To be a truly great customer service business, customer service cannot be something you occasionally focus on. You must have a dedicated, disciplined and unrelenting customer focus applied to everything you do throughout the customer’s lifecycle.
With that in mind, it’s best to assess a customer’s experience with your business before, during and after their purchase:
Before: This is when you address all those “Where?” issues so that when a customer contacts your business, in any fashion, you are ready to make a positive impression. Have a look around your business. Does everyone and everything send the message to customers that they are in a professional environment?
Of particular importance is ensuring your staff members are properly prepared to optimize every customer interaction. Whereas average businesses allow employees to “wing it” during customer interactions, true world-class service organizations properly train their employees so they are prepared to manage customer interactions before they happen. As with professional sports, the time to practice and prepare for the game is before and not at the game itself.
During: This is game time. From an engagement standpoint, what happens during customer/employee interactions at your business is the most critical period. These are your “moments of truth” and will define your service in the hearts and minds of your customers. Accordingly, your focus in this phase should be on execution: ensuring your employees are doing the right things (behaviors) the right way.
As I wrote about here, the most important engagement opportunity is when customers, and potential customers, call the business on the phone. Effective execution at this point of sale is vital to capitalize on sales opportunities and gain market share against local competitors the typical shopper also calls.
This also is the time to manage expectations. That means upholding your commitments and keeping customers in the loop on the status of their service while work is in progress.
After: Memory research findings have shown that human beings will remember the beginning and the end of a given interaction more than any other time. All too often, salespeople will come on strong in the beginning and then minimize – if not outright neglect – the end of a customer interaction. This ties right into the “sleazy salesman”stereotype your salespeople are fighting against.
Unfortunately, most of us have encountered at least one of these phony salesman types over the years. They only love you because they’re trying to sell you something and, once they’re done, you’re left behind as they move on to the next victim.
The best sales/service people are quite different. They love you all the time. One of the best ways to shine and show a customer that you genuinely care is to maintain great service all the way through, including following up with them after the sale.
Steve Ferrante is the Grand PooBah & Trainer of Champions of Sale Away LLC. As producer and host of Pinnacle Performance Training, Steve provides Sales, Customer Service and Leadership training, speaking and professional development services for success-driven businesses throughout North America. For detailed information visit Sale Away. Steve can be reached directly at 866-721-6086 ext. 701 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is also published on LinkedIn here > The Five W’s of Customer Service