At one time or another, all of us have been aggravated by bad customer service. The complaints are familiar: the dry cleaner who refuses to accept responsibility for staining your shirt; the salesperson who talks to a friend on the phone while handling your transaction; the hotel clerk who treats you like a trespasser instead of a guest.
The list goes on. And it happens all the time. Poor customer service is so rampant in this country that we’ve come to expect it.
Maybe that explains why most disgruntled customers don’t bother to complain to organizations that don’t give them quality service, they simply take their business elsewhere. They’d rather walk than talk.
Yes, I know, you’ve heard this before. Just as you’ve heard about the research revealing that unhappy customers do talk to their friends and family. According to customer satisfaction research studies, the average unhappy customer will tell nine or ten people about the poor service he or she received. In other words, large numbers of dissatisfied customers are routinely deserting organizations that displease them and are encouraging their friends to do likewise.
It’s a familiar message. You’ve heard it, your children have heard it, your dog has heard it; for the past few years everybody has heard it. Service excellence! That’s what consumers need!
Companies have certainly heard it. All sorts of organizations are striving to improve their customer service orientation. Hotels, hospitals, airlines, and online businesses now flood their customers with service quality surveys. Everywhere you look you see customer-contact people with service theme buttons on their lapels. Companies spend millions on training programs aimed at improving their employees’ service skills. Customer service has been woven into the fabric of so many corporate credos you’d think abrasive employees would be an extinct species by now.
Yet despite all of this, only a handful of organizations have managed to achieve a standard of consistently excellent service. For some reason, it just isn’t as easy as it sounds.
I think the problem is this: A lot of companies operate on the basis of some pervasive myths that make it difficult if not downright impossible, to achieve first-rate customer service.
1. The quality myth
“Pay attention to quality, and customer service will take care of itself. " Many organizations focus a lot of effort on manufacturing quality. Quality gurus like W. Edwards Deming, Philip Crosby, and Genichi Taguchi have helped hundreds of companies use techniques such as statistical processes control to increase the quality of their products dramatically. But these efforts are often thought to be the sole answer to remaining competitive.
Reality: Quality and service are interdependent. It’s impossible to describe quality adequately without considering it from the customer’s point of view. If your product can’t do what your customer wants it to do, it doesn’t matter if your engineering department is proud of its innovative design and your manufacturing department can boost a terrific production record.
Even if you measure product quality from the customer’s point of view, however, that alone does not ensure customer satisfaction. A superbly manufactured product with poor sales and service support will breed aggravated customers. How many products have you vowed never to buy again because of the poor service you associate with them?
Organizations that pursue quality improvements as the answer to all their problems are misguided. It is only part of the answer. Without superior customer service, efforts to improve product quality will be wasted.
2. The complaint myth
“Good customer service is a matter of knowing how to handle complaints. " “Call 800-111-2222 or contact us at www.customerservice.com if you have any complaints. " “Let us know if you’re unhappy with your room; we’ll change it. " “Please fill out this form. We want to hear from you. "
Companies have poured millions of dollars into making sure their customers have a chance to complain, complain, complain. The problem is, many of these companies never make strategic use of the complaints. And more often then not, they fail to provide complainers with satisfactory responses.
Reality: Without resolution, or at least some response, customers’ complaints are just so much hot air. A company that focuses solely on complaint handling may win a few battles, but it will lose the war to keep customers satisfied. And this approach is no solution for the great majority of dissatisfied customers who never complain, but simply walk away.
Superior customer service involves much more than handling complaints. It means striving to provide customers with no reason to complain in the first place. Strategies aimed at consistently meeting and exceeding customer expectations are a must for achieving service excellence.
None of this suggests that you can forget about complaint handling, but it must be an integral part of a broader service strategy. Well-managed companies see customer complaints as a way to learn: What lesson can we derive from this complaint that will improve our service in the future? Successful companies also see complaints as opportunities to impress customers by going to any lengths necessary to resolve the situation to the customer’s satisfaction. In other words, successful companies pay attention to complaints, but dedicate most of their efforts to preventing whatever caused the complaints in the first place.
3. The quick-fix myth
“Good service is simply good common sense. " Many organizations try to take the easy road to improving service. They believe that by adopting a new service policy, introducing a new training program, or giving stirring pep talks to their employees, they’ll become known for their excellent service.
Reality: This is the most lethal myth of all. As we’ve seen, it’s not easy to achieve service excellence. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes. Organizations that build their reputations on service do so by observing not just one, but every “reality" there is to providing excellent customer service.
Good training without adequate selection is a waste of time and money. Carefully selected and well-trained service employees who are not empowered to look for ways to improve customer service quality are a waste of precious resources. Good service comes only from a well-executed, coherent strategy. All the pieces of the puzzle need to be in place.
The way we treat customers, listen to their needs and strive to meet their expectations will make the critical difference. We can continue to perpetuate the myths. Or we can face the realities, and take action to change.
Copyright© 2005 by Joe Love and JLM & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.
Joe Love draws on his 25 years of experience helping both individuals and companies build their businesses, increase profits, and achieve total success. He is the founder and CEO of JLM & Associates, a consulting and training organization, specializing in personal and business development. Through his seminars and lectures, Joe Love addresses thousands of men and women each year, including the executives and staffs of many of America’s largest corporations, on the subjects of leadership, self-esteem, goals, achievement, and success psychology.
Reach Joe at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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