What sets your business apart from your competitors? Your level of technical expertise, right? The most up-to-date, state-of-the-art systems. Your company is the most price-competitive in the market-place. You have the largest product inventory.
So who needs customer service?
All or some of these factors may apply to your company, but what will really set you apart is the level of customer service you deliver. Customer service is the cornerstone of business success today. Our competitors may not have the level of technical expertise we have and they may not have the state-of-the-art systems we have worked so hard to build up and refine but the importance of customer service cannot be underestimated.
Important though they are, the systems we have in place and the technical expertise are what we call ‘back-office' functions. They are not immediately experienced by the customer and are not, in most situations where there is differentiation, what the customer remembers.
Just as there is a value which can be placed an organisation's product inventory, it's technical or intellectual assets or its reputation, companies who consistently deliver the highest levels of service to all their customers would be able to place a book value on their customer service delivery.
Think for a moment about situations where you have experienced excellent customer service with a company supplying a product or service to you. Your decision to return to do business with them will often be influenced by the memory of the positive experience.
Consider an organisation where you experience high level, or excellent customer service on a consistent basis and because of that, you've become a regular customer. If, after enjoying that level of service, the situation changes and the service levels are not maintained, you may choose to seek an alternative supplier.
When we remove the attention to the customer service experience, the ‘point of difference' no longer exists and customers seek value elsewhere.
Customer service is about choices: how well you choose to deliver it will determine whether the customer chooses to use you again.
Choice, in the first instance, rests with every person responsible for delivering the frontline customer service experience. Although organisations may claim in their mission statements to be focused on delivering "customer service of the highest standards" (whatever that means), if the person at the point of interaction with the customer chooses to make the interaction less than the best it can be, then customer service levels are compromised. The impact of choices goes up the line within organisations. It's not sufficient to drive customer service at the front line and not have support and commitment to deliver the customer service excellence at other levels of the organisation.
Organisations often acknowledge customer service in their mission statements and then it is delivered accordingly: the words of the mission statement are just that - words. What is required is commitment at all levels and at all times to deliver on what is stated.
So how do we improve our delivery of customer service? Here are 7 strategies to improve your organisation's levels of service delivery:
1. Incorporate customer service objectives in your mission statement. The commitment to customer service is so important that it must be set out in the organisation's mission statement. If an organisation does not exist to serve its customers then what is its purpose? Apply specifics as much as possible in the statement, such as "We aim to provide a positively memorable experience for each customer, every time".
2. Have a clearly defined customer-focused approach understood by all in the organization. Develop specific strategies which are focused on your customer's needs and which all in the organisation understand and are committed to deliver on. If you undertake to deliver to your customer at 3am if the product breaks down and their assembly line stops, make sure everyone understands this.
3. Ensure that the commitment to customer service is embraced by all levels within the organization. The commitment to customer service delivery applies equally throughout all levels of the organisation. From the CEO to the despatch clerk, the IT manager to the receptionist, all rely on the customer - and the customer relies on them.
4. Know your customers' expectations. The only way to really understand our customers expectations is to ask them. Researching our customers needs and their expectations gives us a benchmark, a level of expectation we can deliver on.
5. Regularly and objectively measure your level of customer service delivery. Only by measuring will you know if you are hitting the mark - or falling short of what is expected. By doing this you will know if improvements are needed and in what areas you may need to make changes.
6. Know what your competitors are doing . Competitors can provide valuable information about industry standards and customer expectations. Are they doing better than you? What can you learn from them and how can you develop your processes more effectively.
7. Guard against complacency. What you delivered last week was history and good or bad it will be remembered. To be successful in the longer term, organisations must commit to review, maintain and improve the experience for the customer.
The value of customer service may not be as tangible as, for instance, inventory or property - but it is an important intangible asset. Successful businesses know that the customer appreciates service levels which are higher than those which their competitors deliver.
So who needs customer service? We all do - whether we are customers or suppliers. If you want to increase the level of success of your organisation, build on the level of customer service you are currently delivering.