Guest post by J. Bradley Simons
An amazing thing happened this weekend. I was travelling home from Colorado Springs and I witnessed incredible customer service by a group of people in the last place you would expect it: the TSA at the airport security screening.
TSA is typically efficient but it’s usually not where you would expect fantastic customer service. Most of the time, I place the TSA in the category of the “willing but not effective.”
Years ago, one of my continuing education certificates was lost in transit, and the secretary at the University of Utah could not help, but forwarded me to a voice mail. Immediately, I believed I was out of luck. I was surprised, however, to get a response within a few hours. The certificate was recreated, I picked it up, and the problem was solved.
The best part of the service was the call I got at about 5 p.m. That secretary, who already performed better than I expected, called to follow up and make sure everything was taken care of. How often does that happen? I was floored! Expectations exceeded.
Although we all enjoy and even expect wonderful customer service, most of us don’t really know how to provide it. Here are some key points that I believe provide a quality customer experience. Everyone Likes a Surprise
Perhaps the most important part of any customer service program is building in some surprises. Don’t use this in your marketing; it should catch your customer totally unaware, and should send a positive message that supports your expertise and dedication to customers.
Surprises don’t have to be grand; they can be little, unexpected things such as sending a customer a gift card for dinner after you finish the project. Including a short but witty note is a great way to add surprise. Managing Customer Expectations
The most difficult component of a quality customer service program is having systems in place to manage expectations to your level of performance. In most cases we, as business owners, believe we provide more consistent, high-quality service than we really do.
Managing expectations requires a plan – it does not just happen. Here are a few key ideas for expectation management:
Keep it Simple
- Keep your systems simple and easy for staff and customers to understand and effectuate.
- Develop systems to accommodate your most demanding customer. If you can please this customer, the rest will be easy.
- Be clear when you explain processes to your customers.
- Provide visual aids.
- Embed reminders to manage expectations in thank-you notes or welcome letters. These are not disclaimers, just short, quick, almost subliminal messages.
- Train everyone that interacts with customers so they don’t become a damaging third-party messenger. Nothing can destroy your work more than someone sending a counter-message through actions or words.
Keeping it simple goes beyond expectation management. Too often, businesses complicate forms, procedures, and contracts. Complication leads to misunderstanding, lack of a clear direction, confusion, and an inability to obey rules or meet expectations. Great customer service includes making procedures, policies, and forms simple for customers to understand, and making it easy for employees to meet service expectations. Listen More Than You Speak
Most of the time we are too eager to speak and slow to listen. When we listen to a customer – really listen – we can then respond appropriately, calm situations, and address real matters. Rather than preparing your response while partially listening, listen with the intent of asking questions to achieve better understanding. Communicate Clearly and Honestly
Communication comes in many shapes and forms. Speaking, written documents, emails, texts, and meeting minutes all send a message both in the form and the content of the message. Using industry phrases that may not be understood by customers is not a good way to clearly communicate.
Total honesty in communication is critical. Don’t beat around the bush; be up-front and deal with issues. Frequent communication initiated by you rather than the customer will set the customer at ease. If there is an issue on a job site, calling the customer and explaining things honestly and clearly is much better than the customer seeing it, getting mad, and calling to complain. Calm the Storm
The best way to calm an upset customer and thus provide fantastic customer service, rather than arguing, is to learn how to calm the storm. Understanding the situation with sufficient detail is important.
Rather than trying to make a point, ask for time to research, even if you already know your response. Set a specific time to reconnect. You will be surprised what a “timeout” can accomplish. Make sure your response is 100% accurate, and that it complies with company policies, contracts, and good common sense. Make sure that you call back on time and discuss calmly the results of your research that led you to your response. Train, Train, Train
It is highly likely that most of our employees are not trained in the key points of customer service nor even our company policies. Consistency is important in improving customer service. If employees are not trained and retrained periodically, they cannot be expected to provide the high level of customer service demanded by customers. Follow Up
Just like the secretary at the University of Utah did for me, a quick call to double check that a situation worked out as expected is icing on the customer service cake! It only takes a minute, but is such a powerful tool.
J. Bradley Simons is vice president & CFO at Magleby Construction in Linton, Utah. Simons is an active member of the Custom Home Builders Technology Working Group.