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Customer Service - Part 1

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Customer service, and the impact it can have on businesses, has been at the forefront of my mind for some time now. It’s an area that I’m personally passionate about, and, for the first time, trainingreality has launched programme of training courses specifically on customer service (see here).

As usual, my NLP filters have been highlighting numerous examples of good and not-so-good customer service as I’ve progressed through the last few weeks. Most people are aware of the really awful, and really good, examples, as they are generally pretty clear. For this blog though, I’m going to look at the more subtle (much smaller) changes that make the difference between good and exceptional customer service.

The reason for being particularly interested in the specifics of exceptional customer service is that this is the holy grail of free marketing - getting your customers to be so delighted with the service they receive that they become ambassadors for your business, selling on your behalf, without any more input from you.

Earlier this week, I had a spot of lunch in a café. The café prides itself on simple but great quality food, freshly cooked and well served. As with many of these places, cutlery is kept in a tray near the till, for customers to pick up on their way to their seats.

My food arrived, and looked and smelt good. But I fancied a little HP sauce, and so asked the waitress for some. On her return, she delivered the sauce in a clean, small dish, and headed back to the kitchen. Unfortunately, as I was eating a bacon sandwich, I’d not got any cutlery at all, and therefore had nothing to move the HP from the dish to my sandwich with. I had to get up and fetch something.

A very, very small point. Certainly nothing to make a complaint about. But the difference between what happened and what could have happened (either bringing a spoon that could be potentially unwanted, or observing and offering to get one) is the difference between a perfectly acceptable customer experience and an exceptional one. Two absolutely critical elements of what is needed for great customer service were clearly highlighted:

1) If you don’t know if something is wanted or needed, err on the side of the customer, especially if there is no (or insignificant) cost involved. If there is the opportunity to surprise and delight a customer, take it!

2) Observation is crucial. Working on the front line of customer service means that, in order to do it well, you must manage to combine both a very broad field of vision with a highly acute attention to details. Whilst noticing that one customer is missing a spoon, someone else at the other side of the room may need your attention.

The third point, highlighted in a trip to Tesco’s last night, is that if you do something, you must mean it - it must be authentic, genuine care for the customer, not an automated response. On leaving the checkout, there was a sign warning of a wet, slippery floor. A customer service member of staff was walking in front of us, and, on passing the sign, pointed to it and said, “be careful here”. Nothing wrong with that, except she didn’t look, slow down, or give any indication that this was anything other than an automatic, programmed response. if she had turned around, she would have noticed that my wife is pregnant, that the area was crowded, and could have made that little interaction into something really worthwhile.

So the third element in exceptional customers service, but actually the single most important one, is:

3) Be genuine and authentic in what you do. It is amazing how many supposed “mistakes” you can get away with if you show and prove that you care about your customers.

This blog is not about the big things, the awful customer service that drives customers away. It’s about the little things - those simple, tiny things you can do that make the difference between a satisfied customer and a delighted one. There will be much more to follow on customer service - I think it’s one of the things that will make the difference between those companies that survive the recession and those that don’t.

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It costs you nothing, and (possibly) helps us spread the word!