Today, potential customers can learn about not only your products but also your level of customer service online — sometimes quickly choosing another business to patronize. Set your company apart with superior customer service. The first task is to understand what superior customer service means from a customer point-of-view, according to Elliot Maltz, a professor at the Williamette University Atkinson Graduate School of Management. It might not mean quite what you think it does.
Superior customer service is more than solving customer problems and knowing the business’s products well. It definitely includes these but goes beyond. Superior customer service, which characterizes four-star businesses such as Ritz-Carlton Hotels, requires staff to anticipate customer needs, notes Paul Hemp, former senior editor of Harvard Business Review, in his 2002 article, “My Week as a Room-Service Waiter at the Ritz — Customer Service that Puts the ‘Ritz” in Ritzy.” To anticipate needs means that employees must not only have genuine concern for customers’ well-being but also have empathy — the ability to imagine guests’ emotional responses to their experience. In fact, staff must continually put themselves in the customer’s place. Customers who feel looked out for, whatever their needs, make return trips.
No Rigid Formula
Mr. Hemp reports that great customer service is not based on a rigid formula. For example, some customers won’t want a lot of attention at dinner; they just want to be left alone with their meal. Although some wait staff might feel that they have to pamper all guests, to fret over people who do not want that, in fact, would not be good customer service.
Getting it Right
To create a customer service program, managers can research and assess what their customers want through listening to them, giving surveys or conducting focus groups. Then managers can create specific standards and practices, and train employees in these, but also give them the freedom to take initiative and make their own decisions on how to satisfy customers in the best way.
To hire employers with empathy, who will do well in customer service, author Dan Blacharski, in his book, “Superior Customer Service: How to Keep Customers Racing Back to Your Business — Time-Tested Examples from Leading Companies,” advises hiring managers to ask opened-ended, customer-service -related questions during interviews, then quietly listening to the answers. There are also personality tests available from various organizations that can be administered during interviews that determine how much empathy a job candidate has and how well she would do in customer service. Current employees can benefit from courses that will train them in skills such as reading customer body language. But explain to all staff that your policies are flexible and employees have the freedom to satisfy even those customers with unique needs.
Employees who are satisfied with their jobs are more likely to take interest in satisfying customers. To help keep employees happy with their jobs, some time-honored activities managers can do is create a goal for the business that allows employees to feel part of something bigger than themselves, find ways to celebrate various successes and employees, and help employees learn and grow in their profession.