I am increasingly noticing more and more businesses providing unsatisfactory customer service, or, just as irritating, virtually no customer service. Often, at these same businesses, not surprisingly, supervision is also missing. These businesses don’t generate loyal customers, or for that matter many happy, repeat customers. Also, these disgruntled patrons usually don’t provide constructive feedback to the business owner because they are too angry or feel it would be a waste of time. The Ken Blanchard Companies, which helps improve companies’ performance, productivity, and bottom-line results, reports in a survey that customer loyalty ranks as the fourth-most important management challenge to address, and is predicted to be more important by 2010. In the same study, customer relationship skills are cited as the second most important employee development skill, ranking just behind managerial skills.
In a follow-up survey, 74 percent of respondents declared that their organizations were highly focused on customer service improvement. However, only 44 percent indicated that their organization had a formal process for achieving these desired service improvements. Another 57 percent haven’t calculated the cost of losing a client, and 36 percent rarely conduct a customer service audit. I believe the decline and lack of attention to customer service can be attributed to a number of factors, including inadequate training of employees, especially with regard to an explanation and reinforcement of the impact of an employee’s behavior on a customer. There also seems to be a belief that the quicker the sale the better. How many times have you walked into fast food restaurant and when you asked for a special order the server didn’t even listen, let alone get it right? Add to that a cutback on supervisory personnel so there is no one even watching from management to make sure proper service is provided. Smart businesses understand the importance of cultivating loyal customers, and really work at it in a number of ways. One is training coupled with accountability, by having adequate supervision to monitor both employees’ actions and customers’ reactions. There also is a great deal of attention to customer feedback. On the Internet, that can take the form of customer reviews of products. We aren’t talking testimonials, but both positive and negative comments, including why someone didn’t think a product was suitable for them. We are also seeing it in the form of shipping envelopes that allow for quick conversion to an already self-addressed envelope in which merchandise can be returned, sometimes postage-paid, without any questions asked. People aren’t simply turning to the Internet because they are too busy to visit stores. They are also doing so because of better customer service on a number of levels, and they have gotten used to it. The interesting aspect of Internet shopping is the lack of geographic restrictions. Once someone knows what they want, there is a virtually unlimited number of sources to go to on the Internet. But even on the Internet, good customer service ensures returning, loyal customers. That is why so many people return to shop at sites like Amazon.com, and why it was able to expand beyond books. Ultimately, businesses and even providers of professional services will be competing not so much on price, which only a few can be successful at, but on customer and client service. In that regard, more attention will have to be paid to developing an understanding of the actual science of providing comprehensive, superior customer service, including what formal processes have to be put in place.
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