Conway Daily Sun August 11, 2010
People, Environment and Systems Make the Difference
By Michael Kline
I've recently received several requests to create customer service training programs for area businesses. I dig a little deeper to learn exactly what my client wants. So far, no two prospects define customer service training the same way. So how do we teach our staff that which we cannot define? I like to break customer service solutions into three major categories; people, environment, and systems.
First, the old-fashioned, stereotypical "teach my people how to act" program. In researching the latest thinking, it's no surprise that all the best research and writing doesn't really say anything new. Now if you're like me (old) and you've been hearing the same lessons since 1976, keep in mind that your staff was born as recently as 1994 - this isn't old material to them, but at the same time, don't expect to impress them with your company's old black and white film strip on the matter!
In spite of the demand for "something new", it is, and should be, pretty basic material, as the tenants of maintaining customer relationships hasn't changed over the years. We don't need "something new"; we just need to actually implement the old training, instead of learning it intellectually, while thinking we actually do it, when we really don't. So yes, there is great value in teaching how to greet customers, how to make and keep promises, how to handle difficult customers, how to remove obstacles, and how to wow customers simply by using key words and phrases that tell customers you care. This may seem basic, but until it is taught, it is not learned, and most people are not taught these skills at home or in school; this makes it the employers' role. It is vitally important, the easiest and least expensive to implement, and produces the most amazing and measurable results instantly.
Second, we need to create an environment where doing things well is a way of life. Sometimes we call this the company culture, but be careful. Too often clichés about being like a big family, or everyone being close friends creates such a pleasant work environment, that it is mistaken for doing things well and providing a high level of service. In my view, contrary to popular belief, happy employees do not contribute more, but rather, contributing employees are happier employees. Things that make employees happy in the work environment on the surface, do not necessarily make them more productive, or have more respect or concern for the customers, the employer, or even themselves. The satisfaction of contributing in a meaningful way and to be a part of achieving a worthwhile goal is far more powerful than most “carrots and sticks” we try to exert upon our staff. My suggested solution is to invent a culture of including staff in the creation and execution of company goals. This is a complex process involving the development and capitalization of passion and talent, focus and alignment, and constant communication. It will be painful, tedious, frustrating, exciting, uplifting, frightening and rewarding – this is the kind of “working on your business, not in your business” that separates entrepreneurs from the merely self-employed. Truly changing your service environment may require wholesale change in everything you do and everyone involved.
Finally, our own systems, policies and processes may be killing us. Let me explain. Customer service permeates the company – every employee, in every profession, from the front line to the loading dock, to IT or night janitor needs to understand their position exists for one purpose - the acquisition and maintenance of customers. Therefore, our systems and processes must be created with that understanding in mind. Regardless of how much sense they make to us, we must eliminate the hassles, policies and processes that annoy customers. The lawn should be cut to be appealing to the customer, but not while guests are sleeping. Refunds are going to be processed at the same cost anyway, why not empower the front line to do it on the spot and wow the customer? Recently, I was renting kayaks, and the owner of the shop, working the counter, explained their reason for opening later than I expected (and I quote) “we cater to ourselves”! It was all I could do to not walk out. Every employee, in every position, exists only for our customers. This is a difficult concept to permeate into the company if the owner thinks they work for themselves and not the customer.
So with the customer in mind, we need to develop, or redevelop our systems to remove the hassles of doing business with us. We need to consider ways to over-deliver our service promise and train ourselves and our staff “this is how we do it here”. Owners and managers, repeat after me: “this is how we do it here”. Create the best practices that deliver the best results. Teach your staff “this is how we do it here”. Deliver that with consistency and predictability, and you will get predictable results.
So there you have it - the development of people, environment and systems all contribute to customer service, and customer service is not just about handling problems. Customer service is the central, defining issue behind every product, policy or procedure we have, and the only purpose for having any work to do at all. Customer service is not a separate issue to manage, but rather an aspect of all the other issues you manage.