I don’t think anyone disagrees that providing the best customer service is important for any business. Let’s face it, not all things discussed in board meetings or in planning sessions see the light of day and get executed well enough to make any impact to the customers. In reality, being great at customer service is not common sense. It takes real commitment from the top to feel the real effects at the front-line.
You may be a startup founder about to launch the next tech innovation or an entrepreneur in a traditional brick-and mortar-business, the fundamentals of customer service remain the same – it’s all about taking care of people – not bots, but real human beings. Here are some insights I’ve learned over the years:
It’s all about the total customer experience now, where service is just an aspect within it.
Customers don’t just come back to your restaurant because of the food, which may have been the reason they first tried you. But loyalty is built because customers find value in the total experience you bring – the ambiance of the place, the people providing the service, and the product which gives customers most value for their money. When you get all these right and you become consistent, customers start trusting your brand. So, broaden your perspective, we need to look at the total experience. If your business is purely online, your user experience and customer support are critical in converting those clicks and views into real sales.
There’s so much talk about customer engagement and many businesses would translate this as creating yet another loyalty program or launching a new marketing promo. What some tend to overlook is the important role front-liners play in executing all the brilliant plans decided in the boardroom. If your front-liners are no longer motivated or engaged, please do not expect them to deliver excellent service to your customers.
If you believe in customer research, it pays to also understand the sentiments of your own people, what keeps them engaged? What are their present barriers to optimal performance? What did they honestly think about your last raffle or buy one-take one promo? Did they feel recognized enough for the good work they do? Why do they continue to stay with the company, while some have quit?
One of the lessons I learned when I started SatisFIND® in 2005 was being clear with your own values as a founder and business owner. No matter how many layers you have in your business, your customers will ultimately feel how much or how little you cared for them through the culture you have. What are your non-negotiables in doing business? For me, I decided early on that “Fairness” is a non-negotiable that will guide me in all decisions I make. If it’s not fair to our clients, to our mystery shoppers and partners, then it’s not the kind of work we would like to be known for.
The sad truth is, building a service culture is not going to happen overnight. It will take time to create a shared mindset within your team or organization. Each decision you make as an entrepreneur and the leader of your team has to be deliberated, knowing that it will affect your entire culture. Hiring then becomes stricter when you start looking beyond work experience and capability and see the next hire as an extension of yourself.
I met some business owners who would say they lack culture. You see, that’s never the case. There will always be some culture in your organization. If the leaders did not pay close attention to building the right one, there will be other people who will create it for you and you might realize it too late that the culture you have does not represent who are or what you intended for your brand.
Say this with me again, “there are no excuses for bad service”. When we receive a customer complaint, it’s easy to point fingers and find someone to blame. But as entrepreneurs, we know very well who is accountable. This is what separates real entrepreneurs from people who just want to do business. When our people fail our customers, it’s a reflection of our failure to support them (and yes, this brings us back to #2 – Frontliner Engagement). Be wary of members of your team who will always have an excuse. That’s a clear sign that commitment to excellence is slowly crumbling down. I’ll give you two very obvious excuses you will see and hear almost on a daily basis:
a.) Soft Opening. Ok, I get it. You’re a new shop that just opened. What does this sign really mean? It means ‘you’re not ready’, then why allow customers inside who you will charge full price anyway?
The moment you put that sign on your shop, it means two things: 1.) “To my customer, please do not blame me if you’re unhappy with your visit, we are still on soft opening.” And 2.) “To my team, it’s ok to fail our customers, after all, we are still on soft opening.” So please, throw that sign away, if you still have it and you definitely missed my point in #3 – building a service culture.
b.) “Pasensya na po” (Please be patient with me). Ask your front-liners what they say when there is a customer complaint and often you will hear this line said with hardly any empathy or emotion. In the real world, it’s said so mechanically that if you’re the upset or angry customer, it really doesn’t do anything to make you feel better. It’s very Filipino but its real essence was abused when used in a customer recovery context. To say “pasensya na” is not to give an apology but to ask for tolerance from the person aggrieved. Nothing will ever replace the magic words, “I’m sorry” if you really mean to apologize.
Your customers could tell when you don’t have things in place. Your people give it away at the onset of any problem. Then you start hearing feedback your brand is inefficient, that you don’t care about your customers, creating panic within your team, which may lead to more knee-jerk reactions.
Problems may arise at any point in the customer experience journey. We can never plan for all of them, but we can plan to prepare our people. Customer recovery is not just about replying to a comment left on your Facebook page or offering a free product replacement or free meal. The point of customer recovery is to make that customer come back as a paying customer and even tell other people how amazing you were at regaining back the trust. If you haven’t had the time to talk about this in your past leadership meetings, add it in your next meeting’s agenda!
It’s never too late to review your customer experience strategies or to believe that the last customer complaint wasn’t an isolated issue. Customers’ needs keep evolving and what we know 3 years ago, or 3 months ago may no longer be relevant based on the industry we are in. To stay in the game and to come out strong at the top, entrepreneurs need to take time to actively seek feedback from both our customers and our people. If your heart is in the right place and you start asking the uncomfortable (for you) questions, you will be surprised at what you can find out and how simple some solutions can be.
*To know more about SatisFIND, visit www.satisfind.com
Michelle Perez Patel is the founder of SatisFIND®, a customer experience company offering research and mystery shopping services in the Philippines, India and Singapore. She was a marketing professional with notable accomplishments in brand management before starting SatisFIND® in 2005. Her passion for market research and customer service, mixed with her entrepreneurial spirit has made her an effective voice in the field of customer experience in the Philippines.
Michelle was a member of the Board of Directors of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association-Asia Pacific Chapter, heading the Education and Training committee from 2006 to 2007. She was a consultant to the Department of Tourism, Philippines, and a sought-after speaker on customer experience-related topics. A graduate of the University of the Philippines with a degree in Economics and the recipient of the U.P. Gawad Chancellor’s Award for Most Outstanding Student Leader in 1999, Michelle has been a true advocate of leadership and service excellence since her student days.