During a recession, most business leaders are faced with tough decisions about where to tighten the company belt. How can we improve customer service while cutting costs, they wonder. What system should we implement? What focus groups do we need to organize? What widgets do we need to buy? What phrase do our CSRs need to say in order to ensure repeat business?
None. The secret to providing killer customer service, even in a recession, is to provide your basic service in a consistent manner. The basics are still the same, and the basics only require a corporate culture supporting the customer service process and a strong desire to listen to customers.
In this video, Sara Cook of the Stairway Consultancy gives advice on customer service. The gist? Get really good at providing the basics. Provide what your customers want when they want it. Then ask them how you can do better. Once the basics are covered consistently every time like a graceful dance, you'll find that what your customers ask for in terms of improvements will be fractional. Tiny, inexpensive adjustments instead of major, industry-shaking changes.
Do the basics well, consistently
Last week, I had three customer service interactions. Every single one failed on the basic level.
- Purchasing a car. Since my car was stolen last month, I spent many harrowing weeks shopping for a nice, reliable-yet-fun used car. Finally, I decided on a model and a unit and commenced the grueling haggling process with the salesman. He began by promising "I won't put you through a three-hour-long negotiation process." The negotiation took exactly three hours. He promised to have the car detailed by the end of last week. It's Thursday, over a week later, and I still don't have the car. The basic level of customer service--providing a speedy transaction ending in my owning a car--was never met.
- Getting ink cartridges refilled. Last weekend, I went to a local ink refill store, handed the clerk my near-empty cartridges, and watched as she checked the numbers on the back and handed me two new cartridges. When I arrived home, I discovered both were the wrong type. A week later, when I had the chance to visit the store again, it was closed (at 2:00 on a Saturday). When I Twittered about my week without ink and eventual decision to purchase new cartridges elsewhere, the store owner requested that I should have contacted him by phone instead of Twittering. (I wonder if he would have answered, even with the store being closed?) The basic level of customer service--providing a refill for my ink cartridges--was never met.
- Getting groceries delivered. Last weekend, I opted to have groceries delivered, since my work schedule is rounding 60 hours a week. The delivery slot was between noon and 2:00, so I scheduled an appointment for 2:15. By 1:50, the groceries hadn't arrived, so I called in to customer service. After 10 minutes on hold, I hung up. I found an email address and sent a complaint, then opened the door to leave--there was my delivery man, who promptly informed me that he wasn't late. Only he was late because another customer had an extra item that hadn't been included... etc. The basic level of customer service--groceries arriving as ordered--was not met.
The key to surviving the recession? Distinguish yourself by providing the basic service you promise in the manner in which you promise it in a consistent manner. This will put you miles ahead of competitors who are so busy futzing with customer service "techniques" that their customers are still emailing them, asking them for the widget they ordered last week.
Back to the basics wins it.
[cross-posted to Spoken Communications blog]