Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

Successful businesses feature consistent customer service in these four areas...

Consistent Customer Service

Success is a result of maintaining consistent performance. Do you believe that? Have you ever said you wanted to lose weight? To lose weight, I believe you have to have three things; a passion to get to the goal and a targeted plan and consistent follow through. If one of those steps is missing, success in losing weight is hampered. I think those three steps can be used in business to become successful and to consistently maintain that success. Have the passion, develop the goal and work hard everyday to remain consistent in everything you do. In order to solve the customer service riddle, develop and grow the next four strategies within your business.

1. Brand Consistency
Is your business consistent in everything it does to build its "brand"? If your customer closed their eyes and heard your company's name, would they automatically visualize your business? If they pulled up your website on the internet, would it have the same look and feel as your "brick and mortar" store? If they received a publication from you, would they immediately know who it was from? Could they identify your business if they heard your radio or TV advertisement within the first few seconds?

Building a brand is more than just developing a logo, having a business card, a store front or a website. Building a brand is creating the foundation of a business that can be consistently and continually "cemented" in the mind of your customer. It involves everything you do on a day-to-day basis and in every way you "touch" your customers.

I have a favorite "drive-in" restaurant where I live. Yes, I said "drive-in", just like out of the 1950's. The name of the restaurant is just one word. Their brand is their name, their logo, their food and the employees who seem to really like their jobs. When I think of "convenience food", I don't think of the mega chains, I think of this "drive-in". I have never had a bad meal, or a server with an "attitude" and I have never had to wait very long to get my food. There is consistency in what they offer. I didn't say perfection, just consistency.

I believe that is what our customers all expect and deserve. We will never be perfect in what we do or who we are but we can work consistently to deliver the experience for our customers that cements our brand in their minds and their hearts.

I am also a cheerleader for this restaurant! Do you have cheerleaders for your business? Cheerleaders for any business have two things in common. One, they are passionate about their experiences with a company and second, they can describe and promote a company in a couple of short sentences. Do you know what your "cheerleaders" say about you?

2. Workforce Consistency
Are your employees engaged, disengaged or empowered? Too often employees are at work "physically" but not fully engaged. It's like sitting at a red light with your car idling; the gas is in the car, the engine is running but your foot is on the brake and not allowing the car to move. These employees show up for a paycheck and that is about the extent of their excitement about working for you. Remember, your employees are a huge part of creating your "brand consistency".

You may also have employees who are engaged, working right along side those who are "disengaged". This combination has a lethal potential. It is very possible that the employee who is just "idling" can influence the engaged employee to slowly put on the brakes and your workforce consistency is running out of gas.

Workforce consistency works best when the employees are empowered. Empowered employees are a critical part of providing consistent and credible customer service. Empowered employees who have been entrusted with the ability to make decisions without always asking for approval from a manager will help to make the customers experience a memorable one.

All of us have been a lost customer because we had to deal with someone who didn't have the capability of making a decision or worse yet, was not properly trained.

I was traveling recently and stopped at a gas station and needed gas and a car wash and was paying cash. After a number of unsuccessful tries at the gas pump, I locked my car and headed for the station to "pay inside". One of the employees was on the phone and there was a line of people waiting. By the time I got to the register and told the employee I needed gas and a car wash you would have thought I was speaking another language. He kept staring at the computer screen trying to figure out what icon to push. He had to wait untill the manager got off the phone so he could find out how to take my money for a car wash and a half a tank of gas.

I got my gas and my car wash without a smile, a thank you or a "sorry it took so long" answer. That type of "workforce consistency" just drove me to another gas station.

3. Training Consistency
In the previous example, my experience could have been avoided if the employee had been correctly trained on all of the possible sale scenarios prior to being put behind the register. This not only was embarrassing for him but annoying for his manager and a time waster for me. Cutting training budgets is a direct reflection on a drop in sales. I read recently about two different companies who increased their training budgets and complaints fell by almost 50% and sales per square foot almost doubled.

Well trained employees help to drive a consistent customer experience. But you may ask yourself, "How do I keep them passionate and engaged at work"? A recent business publication used a big box retailer as an example of how to keep people motivated at work. Simply put, they put everyone on a bonus plan. They replaced weekly pizza parties with cold, hard cash. The results; improved customer service and employees who see themselves as team members. The study went on to say that 70% of employees got some incentive every month and they admitted that they didn't mind spending more on wages if the bottom line is much better. The dirty secret for any business is that bad service costs more.

If you think this can only work in big companies think again. I know a nursery center that has been extremely successful in using this same reward program. The results for them have been increased morale, improved customer service, better mystery shopper results and you guessed it, improved sales. It is obvious that successful businesses can move their employees from mere satisfaction to passionate loyalty by providing a paycheck and a reason to stay. Face it. We all want to be part of something we can be proud of at the end of the day.

Focus on employee training and rewarding for targeted performance and you'll see why consistency in your training program will affect your bottom line.

4. Innovation Consistency
To be successful, you can't just keep up with the Joneses, you have to be better than the Joneses and innovation is the way to get you there. With technology changing daily, I believe businesses cannot afford to have "nay-sayers" on board. These are the people at business meetings who say, "We've always done it this way", or "That will never work", or better yet, "We can't afford to do that". Negativity breeds negativity, and I say get rid of the negative in the company.

Embrace innovation and look for the changes you can make in your business. Even if you can't afford some of them, make sure you aware of the newest trends.

Some of the newer trends in retail are the following.

Biometrics
Biometrics gives the customers the opportunity to leave loyalty and credit cards home and pay for merchandise by placing a thumb on a fingerprint reader. This technology is not in retail mainstream yet, however its use is extremely promising. The idea that a customer would not have to worry about credit card-related security concerns, along with the possibility of guaranteed loyalty card participation would be an extreme enhancement to building service consistency.

In 2005, I frequented a small salon that had this technology. I was really amazed. I would come in, and the gal at the computer would ask me to touch the finger pad. My identification would pop up on the screen and she would log in my visit. I thought it was great and I never had to dig for my credit card or checkbook. Think about how this could work for your business because if you have it now, you'll be ahead of the curve.

Line Busting
It allows retailers to process sales with mobile devices and takes credit card payments without having customers go through checkout lines. If you think about it, inexperienced associates and inferior technology or poor store configuration can create the bottlenecks that snarl sales and annoy customers. These hand-held mobile units' help complete the sale faster and everybody is happier.

I have had my items scanned at a major discounter; however, they weren't able to take payment at the time. They scanned all of the items and forwarded that information to the cashier who took payment for it. My son works for one of the biggest fast food companies and he was handling the "mobile device" the other day outside in the drive-through line so that the customers' orders were ready by the time they got to the window. Could be tough to get employees to work outside in bad weather, but I am sure those people waiting in line were impressed at the "golden arches" for being technology savvy.

RFID Tags
The newest innovation is that of RFID tags, or, radio frequency identification tags. RFID is poised to help business reduce costs, fine-tune inventory management, fortify theft detection, and achieve new velocity and visibility across an extended supply chain of suppliers, partners, and customers. It has the possibility of carrying 10 to 100 times the amount of information that a bar code does. I believe there are wonderful uses for RFID tags but I also believe there will be much discussion on how much personal information can be stored on these tags and how and when they can be de-activated. This is an innovation that is worth watching.

How consistent is your company in these four areas? Notice, I did not say perfect, I said consistent. Focusing on the areas of branding, employees, training and innovation will provide the customer service consistency that your customers so eagerly request.

Anne M. Obarski is "The Eye on Performance!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne helps companies focus on the profit building service strategies that will keep their customers coming back. Anne presents nationwide keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training in the area of customer service. She has written "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work". For more information visit her website at www.merchandise concepts.com.

Read all advice by Anne M. Obarski; Find more Customer Service experts

More advice on Customer Service
» Customer Care
» Earning Customer Trust
» all Customer Service articles