Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

Why you need to take customer service complaints more "personally" to ensure the highest level of service possible.

Improving Customer Service: Taking It Personally

How many times have you ever said the following words, "Oh, don't take it personally". I don't know about you, but when I hear those words I do the exact opposite, I take it personally!

I wish more companies would take it personally when customers are unhappy with the service, or lack of service, that they have received. So, let me ask you, who actually cut the training budget, cut staffing, reduced benefits, increased the work load and put the blame somewhere else?

I think the time has come to take it personally.

If you want to create enviable customer service that keep your customers coming back, I suggest you get a little "personal" with the following 3 tips.

Personally Make it a Priority
If you don't make customer service a priority, you are doomed to failure, period. Take a lesson from Everdream, a software company in Fremont, California. In the July, 2004 issue of Inc. magazine, Rod Kurtz presents a case study that does not deal with software issues but "soft skills" issues.

In a nut shell, the company, whose trademark was customer service, chose to outsource their call center out of the country. The outsourcing was projected to save the company 25% of their operating expenses. And then the story gets personal. Customers noticed the difference. Language was a problem, there was static and call center employees' training was inadequate. The customers rebelled. No kidding!

The customers were frustrated and disappointed with the decline in service. The article goes on to state, "The CEO traveled around the country, meeting with top customers and delivering personal calls to others. After explaining the cause of the problems and informing customers that the help desk would return under Everdream's immediate supervision, Griffiths heard a common, if not surprising, refrain: Thank you."

The expensive lesson learned: make customer service your number one priority.

Personally make it your model
As a professional speaker, I like to interview a handful of audience members before I speak to the group. I ask questions that will help me take the "pulse" of the employees and discover what some of their challenges are.

Recently, one of the managers that I interviewed said, "My biggest challenge is training my staff to deliver good service, because you know what they say, "monkey see, monkey do"! My answer was "What type of training model are you following?"

Is your training:

M = Memorable
Develop a customer service training model that is simple and repeatable.

O = Ongoing
Develop a customer service training program that allows your employees to learn new skills and to be aware of the changing needs of their customers.

D = Different
Develop a training program that incorporates different learning styles through seminars, e-learning, videos and focus groups.

E = Effective
Develop an assessment tool to survey your customers to find out whether your employees current customer service skills are effective.

L = Learned
Develop customer service training skills that your employees can be held accountable for having learned. Make those skills part of a review system that your employees know they must become proficient at and will be held accountable for.

Your customer service training program is the life-blood of your business. By cutting the training budget, you're cutting the "throat" of your business.

Personally reward
I look back at the Inc. magazine article and ask, "Who actually helped build the $20 million dollar Everdream business?" Granted they had a great software product, but I believe the call center and frontline employees built a day-to-day relationship with the customers. And how were they rewarded? The company took their jobs and gave them to someone else outside of the country to save money. How degrading! What does your reward system look like?

How do you reward your employees when they have done a good job? Challenge your management staff to think of on-going and unique ways to say a simple "thank you" to those employees who are helping to build your business. I believe that customer loyalty is a direct reflection of employee loyalty. Isn't that something that should be rewarded?

Recently, it was the shareholders who bombarded Home Depot chief executive Bob Nardelli with concerns about inconsistent customer service and the retailer's stock price, which has fallen 13 percent during his tenure despite record company earnings. Mr. Nardelli's response was, "I can only say, at any given point we may disappoint a customer and that the company's goal is to limit the times that happens."

I think it is time that big companies as well as small companies start taking customer service personally. Customers as well as stockholders are going to start holding businesses accountable and they will be the ones saying, "Don't take it personally, but we are going to do business elsewhere!"

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.

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