Saturday, September 8, 2012

Is Your Customer Service Performance Sustainable?

If the world is cold make it your business to build fires – Horace Traubel

In a recent Gallup Business Journal feature, Scott Simmons and Christie Fraser reported on the state of customer service in the hospital industry. Notable in their findings: hospitals try to deliver the best healthcare outcomes and good customer service, but many are falling short. They say that the key to turning things around is by improving service demands that truly has a focus on the patient.

Be it the hospital industry or any other business where customer service is essential to survival it is important to look at how customer service is delivered. But it is imperative to look at that service through the eyes of leadership to determine if your performance is sustainable. Leadership expert John Maxwell says that everything rises and falls on leadership. He’s right. So does customer service.

The findings in a recent Bellingham Biz Review article revealed that “Companies can lose business because of dissatisfied clients. Did you know that only two to four percent of dissatisfied customers ever complain to a business regarding a poor experience? Conversely, they tell upwards of 20 people about the bad experience.” Ouch! If the customer is the life blood of your business doesn’t it stand to reason that intentional service-based leadership skill is a priority? Simply put, you need to EQUIP your team. Here are my five principles that can help you chart the course going forward.

Educate everyone. An essential component of any successful service-based business is team members who are knowledgeable. To that end, your customer service team should undergo product training for the benefit of the customer; leadership training for theirs.

Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Essential to good customer service is good management. Essential to outstanding customer service is good leadership. When you combine the two through intentional leadership education you have the making of a powerful team.

Question everything. The purpose here is not to foster skepticism but to constantly evaluate processes and outcomes and to be sure that every advantage you need is in play. Malcolm Forbes said, “The smart ones ask when they don’t know. And, sometimes, when they do.” To fully understand whether your service performance is sustainable and going in the right direction you have to ask.

Understand expectations. At the heart of the customer service experience is a set of expectations that are in play. The only way to know the expectations of your customers is to know the customer. Knowing that is the easy part. Staying informed and ahead of the curve is another creature. It is important that your team knows that your customers are not transactions; they are people. In his highly acclaimed book, The Fred Factor, Mark Sanborn says, “Customers don’t have relationships with organizations; they form relationships with individuals.” He’s right.  When you take care of customer expectations you will not have to worry about profits.

Insist on excellence. Great customer service is the by-product of a culture of excellence that flows out of leadership. If you want to know whether or not your customer service performance is sustainable then this is there you will make the discovery. Make it your practice to strive for excellence in all areas of service and your performance will soar.

Prioritize execution. In the end it is what you deliver that counts. Smart leaders know how to prioritize the daily demands that service-based performance requires. Consistency is a key component to your overall operation. When everyone knows how to prioritize and deliver with excellence then your potential is unlimited.

When you put these EQUIP principles into play within your organization you can position your team for great returns. One of the most meaningful long term benefits is that of customer loyalty. The Bellingham Biz Review article concluded with this insight: 20 percent of customers generate more than 80 percent of revenues and profits.  Wouldn’t it be great to know what makes loyal customers return again and again?

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

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