Crisis shouldn’t be the spur, but better late than never.
In article in the June 7 Wall
Street Journal caught my eye. Titled “Customer Service as a
Growth Engine,” the article described efforts by large organizations such as
Walgreens, Comcast, American Express and others to pay “more attention to
customer service in an effort to increase sales and gain market share in the
economic recovery.” The newspaper cited a recent survey of more than 1,400
companies that found more than a quarter saying customer service would be the
prime target of increased funding once the economy
To which I silently responded, Duh!
I wonder if it occurred to
executives at all of those companies surveyed, as it did to me, that had they
invested more money in - or not scraped it away from - customer service
activities when the downturn hit, they might already be enjoying increased
sales and market share. It’s a real simple concept. People like to do business
with companies that make it likeable to do business with them.
Companies of all kinds can get so wrapped up in trying to generate
revenue-producing business that they neglect customer service. It’s easy to do,
especially since many activities that fall into the customer service category
may end up costing money, and in hard times everyone is looking to trim
overhead. In the end this is shortsighted, because anything that detracts from
customer service is bound to impact sales volume in a negative way over time.
Also, for the most part, customer service is not expensive.
Running a business can get pretty complicated, but customer service is not. You
don’t need an MBA to master it, and it costs little to nothing to implement. It’s
a matter of attitude and simply applying the Golden Rule to your policies and
procedures that relate to customer interactions.
Here are three initial steps to take to establish a customer service culture in
1. Make customer service the
highest priority. Ever walk into a retail store and stand around waiting while
some clerk avoids eye contact while finishing up paperwork or some other chore?
That’s a good example of anti-customer service.
A better way is to make it an explicit company policy that employees ought to
drop whatever they may be doing at any given moment in order to respond to a
customer request. Some important tasks might get delayed, but this rule states
loudly and clearly that nothing is more important to your business than your
2. Create measurable customer
service goals. These might be metrics such as reduction in number of
complaints, or an increase in repeat business, or a contest to reward employees
who attract the greatest number of customer testimonials.
3. Value customer service as much as sales by
creating incentives to provide excellent customer service, such as restaurant
certificates or bonuses to employees who generate the most customer testimonials.
Years ago, I interviewed Angie Hicks,
founder of the “Angie’s List” consumer referral service for home repairs. One
of the things she told me ought to be burnished on the walls of every trade business.
As you might expect, plumbing companies are among the most prevalent on Angie’s
List. I asked her what were the most common complaints she sees about plumbing
Specifically I asked about price, and she said that while price is one of the
categories graded by Angie’s List members, plumbing contractors generally don’t
get hammered in this area. “It’s the little things,” she
“Getting people to return phone calls, showing up for appointments - that’s
what our list members mostly complain about. The little things make a big difference.
It’s especially bad this time of year (late May) when remodelers and other
trade firms are getting busy,” Angie said.
Those “little things” are absolutely within your control. Nothing can prevent
you from returning calls, showing up on time, being polite, telling everyone in
your organization to wear a smile when dealing with customers and treating them
with respect. Nothing can prevent you from drumming it into all your employees
that their livelihood depends on doing these things just as much as it does
their talent. Customer care can overcome the glitches that inevitably arise
mechanically and logistically in the course of running your business.
If you read my column from last month, you’ll understand that in the Internet
age of instant and widespread communications, customer care is more important
In A Pinch, Try Customer Service
December 1, 2010