Understanding Customer Service

Does your organization share the same view of customer service? Has service been defined or is it a generic term? Having an organizational philosophy around customer service is as important as having a mission and vision statement. Many times I have been a customer and have gone into a store or called a business and received nothing more than a representative being neutral in demeanour and reactive to my questions, yet believing good service had been provided. A business cannot gain a competitive advantage through mediocre transactions with customers. What does customer service mean to you? Do you want transaction or interaction experiences?

"Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game." (Tony Alessandra)

Here is our customer service definition.

Customer Service is a philosophy of being customer-focused, put into daily practice by all employees. It includes a series of defined principles:

Perception is reality.
Taking the customer perspective in every situation and asking yourself "how do they think I acted/responded, what kind of feeling are they leaving our interaction with". It is understanding that your perceptions influence the type of interaction with the customer. For example: if you think that a customer who is having a problem or is being difficult is a nuisance, your ability to solve the problem and listen with empathy will be negatively affected and will affect the outcome of the experience.

The customer is always right.
This does not mean the customer is always right, but it means we take the attitude that the customer has a right to be served, has a right to their needs being listened to, understood and our best attempt to meet those needs.

Interaction vs. transaction.
Our behaviors and how we interact with customers need to focus on building relationships (strategic, proactive, organization-initiated) versus having a transaction with a customer (reactive, customer-driven, situational).

One size does not fit all.
Customers are unique and want to be treated as individuals, versus having a one-sized fits all approach where employees are enforcing policies. Businesses have guidelines, which support employees in making decisions and understanding workflow, but during an interaction, the customer wants to feel like their unique need is being addressed (even if the need isn't unique at all).

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression".
Consistent strategies employed across an organization to ensure the customer is receiving a positive first impression are critical.

Define your story.
Customers in every business are telling a story about their experience with you once it is over. The question is what kind of story they are telling. Customer focused organizations define an experience based on what their customers want and then create processes, enable technology, train and support people to action.

Service is a process, not an event.
Being customer focused means having a system for continuous quality improvement to ensure the standard can never fall to mediocre or comfortable. By encouraging and acting on customer feedback, employee feedback and a desire to carve out a different experience versus catching up with the competition, customer focused organizations find ways to be innovative, reduce barriers, solve problems at the root, find new ways to wow, encourage complaints, change processes, etc.

Happy employees = happy customers.
Our customers will only be treated as well as our employees. Part of customer service initiatives must include strategies around hiring, retention, and motivation of our most valuable internal assets.

Here is an activity you could use to define customer service. Place two flip charts in a room, one labelled "what to do" and one labelled "what not to do". Ask participants to consider past personal experiences as a customer, and brainstorm behaviours illustrating what we should do if we are in the business of service, and what we should not.

Since you are in the business of customer service, using the flip chart "what to do" and adding answers to it, brainstorm a list of behaviours that answer the statement "Customer Service means..." You might have responses like: Customer Service means doing what you can for the customer, answering their question on the spot, following up on promises, asking strategic questions to understand the customer need and motive, etc.

Go back through your brainstormed list and pull out common themes. Use these to write a definition (one or two sentences) and/or series of principles. Use these to guide you in understanding the concept of what service is, related to your business.

It is not enough to just create the philosophy, employees need to buy into it and understand what it means to them (i.e., how do they implement and execute this daily)? This requires your philosophy/principles to be defined in terms of actions and behaviours.