We're All in the Customer Service Business!

We're All in the Customer Service Business!

After 40 years focused solely on customer service I continue to devote my time and energy to helping businesses create a service culture. The point I try to get across to everyone is: you are in the service business. Most companies think they're in manufacturing or retail. It's a paradigm switch.

Amazon is successful because it understands it's a customer service company that just happens to be the largest Internet-based retailer in the world. Does it pay off to be focused solely on customer service? Amazon's net sales increased 20% in 2014 to $88.99 billion, compared with $74.45 billion in 2013. Answer: Yes, it does... they celebrate excellent customer experiences.

Here are the six steps to creating a service culture. It works every time.

  1. Understand you're in the service business. Starbucks is successful because they understand they're a customer service company that just happens to sell great coffee.
  2. Look at all the policies, procedures, and systems you have in place that make life miserable for customers. You could have the nicest people in the world but also have stupid hours, stupid rules, or stupid procedures that irritate customers - stupid policies, procedures, and systems that keep customers from coming back.
  3. Have empowerment. Every employee must be able to make fast and powerful decisions on the spot - and they better be in favor of the customer.
  4. Be selective about whom you hire. Service leaders hire one out of 50 applicants, sometimes one out of 100, and they're very careful. You have to look for the cream, the A players, instead of bringing on B and C players.
  5. Educate and train the whole staff on the art of customer service with something new and fresh every four to six months. It doesn't matter if you have 100, 1,000, or 10,000 employees: you better have something new and fresh constantly in front of them so when they go to work they say, "Fantastic, I'm taking care of customers!"
  6. Measure the results financially so you know the impact customer service is making on revenue, profit, and market share. You have to track the numbers so you understand that it's worth the time and effort.

My methods shouldn't shock anyone. It's likely that most successful businesses are doing some of these things already. But I think what establishes a great service culture is the commitment to following through on all six.

Let me share with you the five critical elements necessary for excellent service:

First, you must have speed. Speed allows you to be different in the marketplace. It's not going from 10 hours to 9 hours, it's how do you do it within the next few minutes. How do you take care of customers efficiently while you're serving them?

Second, it's important to empower employees. They have to do whatever they must, on the spot, so the customer walks out of the store, gets off the phone, or steps away from the Internet and think they have gone to heaven.

Third, in whatever service or product you're selling, quality is essential.

Fourth is service. Quality service is highly intangible. If you asked 100 customers to define it there would be 100 different answers.

Finally, I stress the importance of using the customer's name, remembering the customer, and making each customer feel special - every time. Take for instance Apple. I always have a great experience because they combine technology, speed, quality, and service. They dominate because they understand how the service culture works and they always call every customer by name. It's part of their procedure, part of their culture.

After all these years I have not changed my focus. It all starts with customer service.

John Tschohl is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis. Described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a "customer service guru," he has written several books on customer service and has developed more than 25 customer-service training programs distributed worldwide. His strategic newsletter is available online. Contact him at john@servicequality.com or (952) 884-3311.

Published: March 24th, 2015

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