By Billy Arcement—The Candid Cajun
No sane business person would disagree that customers are the lifeblood of their business. If you have no customers, you have no business. How you engage with your customers is a key component of your success.
Prior to starting my professional speaking / consulting business 20 years ago, I was a senior corporate manager in the chemical industry. I began as a quality manager. Getting quality right became our most significant improvement need. It took several years to learn quality issues important for our customers. Reaching that level then became our goal. We had a great team serious about making this happen. Our efforts paid off. Our product quality was judged the best in the world, relative to the competition from other producers.
But there was a missing element—a solid system to serve our customers and create an exceptional level of customer service. In college, I lead my R & B band. Service to clients—dancers and the folks that hired us fine-tuned my customer service mindset. When I taught, my students were customers. I wanted to educate them to a high proficiency level in my science classes. When I shifted careers to a chemist in the chemical industry, I had quality control responsibilities. By the time I was promoted to a management position, superior customer service was in my blood.
My focus shifted to raising the service level to our customers. Any business must know the mindset of their customers—the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences. You learn this by asking for feedback and documenting quality concerns. Most importantly, you implement changes to improve the customer-business relationship. I implemented such a system and worked very closely with production to produce consistent quality meeting the needs of all our customers.
To help remind everyone of our obligation, I developed twelve customer service rules. Any business can adopt them because they work! In this bleak business boondoggle now existing, their importance rises to a much more significant level.
- Focus on problem identification. Turn them into opportunities. You must be precise in determining the root cause of the problem. It’s the only way to resolve it. Be sure the solution is agreeable to you and the customer. Be rapid with your response, keep your word, and follow through on your promises. This is serious business. Take it that way.
- Keep accurate records, particularly for quality problems. Set up a system with easily retrievable information. The goal is to prevent repetitive occurrences of a complaint.
- Listen! Listen! Listen! You can’t learn with your ears plugged and your brain disengaged.
- Help customers understand who in your organization can address their concerns. Channel problems where it originates to support rapid responses. Have a point person to drive and coordinate the process.
- Practice empathy and sympathy. Not always easy but the right move. Walk in the shoes of your customer and be genuinely interested in a resolution, no matter where the finger points. A sincere concern gains confidence in your business.
- Smile. It’s free and a pleasant thing to greet, even when you are pissed off.
- Use customers as the best source for new product or service ideas. Learn from the situation and use the information to make life better for you and your customers. I once proposed to visit companies that supplied 80% of our revenue. I gained a Graduate Degree of knowledge that exponentially elevated our ability to serve customers. We sold globally and traveling to a customer anywhere in the world became a normal activity.
- Be honest and level with customers when something goes wrong. Don’t play politician. If you are wrong—admit it. Never lie to a customer. It’s a fatal folly. But also be ready to share data showing the customer is wrong. Honesty works both ways.
- Never miss an opportunity to express appreciation for your customers’ business. A sincere “Thank you” goes a long way. Be positive, polite, and patient. Make this approach permeate the entire enterprise. It must be your culture.
- The customer isn’t always right but she’s always the customer. Saying “I’m sorry” for a mistake isn’t a fatal utterance. Be competent, honest, caring and responsible.
- Don’t run down the competition—show the difference. And don’t forget, no statue was ever erected to a critic.
- Periodically measure your customers’ satisfaction. Solicit feedback. Keep lines of communication open so customers won’t forget you.
I’ve shared these rules many times in customer service training. They never fail to produce a resounding AMEN!