An American Express Service Study recently showed that people actually have a physical reaction to great customer service. Sixty-three percent of 1,620 respondents said they feel their heart rate increase when they just think about great service. More than 50 percent have the same cerebral response to great service as they do to feeling loved.
The trick to eliciting that overwhelming reaction among your customers lies in helping your employees learn and use the most effective customer service skills, says bestselling author Ron Kaufman.“The truth is, the service provided by many of the world’s biggest companies can be downright disappointing,” says Kaufman, author of The New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet. “We spend hours on hold when we just need an answer to a simple question. Store clerks don’t acknowledge our presence. The list could go on and on.”
As a small business owner, your edge over bigger companies is the special service and product knowledge your employees impart. You just have to make sure that they consider providing great customer service a matter of personal pride. To help you instill that among your staff, Kaufman provides these 10 tips.
1. Give them leeway to make in-the-moment decisions
“Empowerment” is a buzzword in business. In theory, we all understand that improved service is unlikely to happen without it, yet many managers and employees seem to fear it. If a manager is not confident in his people, he doesn’t want to empower them with greater authority. If an employee is not confident in his decisions, he will not want the responsibility that comes with empowerment.
“Don’t overcomplicate service,” says Kaufman. “Work with your employees to switch their focus from ‘What should I do?’ to ‘Who am I serving and what do they value?’”
For instance, if an employee feels he should match the 15 percent-off poster paper discount from Michaels because the customer he’s serving is a regular, let him. Monitor this system by reviewing situations with your team to ensure that in-the-moment decisions lead to the result everyone wants: happy and loyal customers, confident staff and a successful business.
2. Have mistake meet-ups
Here’s a way to demystify the fear that goes along with making a mistake: “Have a meeting and say, ‘We want learning from mistakes to be part of our culture. I’ll go first to show you what I mean,’” advises Kaufman. “Talk about a mistake you made and what you learned from it. Then ask, ‘What can I learn from you?’ That way, everybody shares and, boy, does that make them feel safer. It gives them the freedom to try new ideas and to take new actions.”
3. Eradicate cumbersome policies and procedures
In Uplifting Service, Kaufman writes about an experience he had while dining at a luxury resort in California. A special menu that night spotlighted several of the chef’s signature dishes, but Kaufman’s guests were vegetarians and there was nothing on the menu for them to choose from. Kaufman himself had been craving a particular salmon salad, so he asked the waiter for the regular menu. Obviously uncomfortable, the waiter whispered, “If you go back to your room and order room service, then you can order the salmon salad or anything else on the [room service] menu, but I can’t serve you those choices here tonight.”
“In trying to spotlight the chef’s menu, the restaurant created a major roadblock for the people who worked there. The waiter wasn’t given permission to serve!” points out Kaufman. “Like the waiter, most frontline staff members are taught to follow policies and procedures, and are hesitant to ‘break the rules.’ Some rules should be broken, changed or at least seriously bent, from time to time.”
4. Acknowledge achievements
Compliments are highly motivating, and inspire employees to keep coming up with newer and better service ideas. That’s why you should –
a) actively solicit feedback from customers, and
b) regularly share positive comments with employees.
The great benefit of acknowledging achievements is that you can get a big impact out of simple actions. Saying, “Thank you!” to an employee who handled a telephone call particularly well, for example, can go a long way.
5. Educate and inspire them to serve each other
Most companies address their service issues by starting with frontline employees, but they cannot give better service if they themselves are being underserved by their managers. Here’s an example: When Kaufman worked with Air Mauritius, before it was voted the best airline in the Indian Ocean, he started by addressing the communication problems in its dysfunctional culture, which manifested as bickering, finger-pointing, withholding information and more.
“First, the employees had to realize that everyone on staff either directly serves the customer, or serves those who serve the customer,” notes Kaufman. “Everyone from the engineering staff to the technical crew had to embrace a service improvement mindset, which meant they had to serve each other as well as the customer.”
6. Teach them to solicit customer feedback at various points of contact
Asking, “Is there anything we can do better for you the next time you order from us?” accomplishes two important objectives. First, you gather valuable ideas. Second, you get the customer thinking about doing repeat business.
“Even if a customer doesn’t have a recommendation, trust that they’ll be glad your employee cared enough to ask,” says Kaufman. “It’s a way of saying, ‘We value your business. We want to provide you with the best possible service, and would be delighted to serve you again.’ It also shows your customers that you aren’t afraid of improvement.”
7. Help them find creative ways to improve service
Imagine going up a ski lift and accidentally dropping one of your gloves or ski poles into the woods below. When it happens at Deer Valley Ski Resort in Utah, the staff helps you find the missing item and then gives you a coupon for a free hot chocolate. Ski on!
A new Italian restaurant announced its grand opening with great fanfare in the press. Every table was reserved weeks in advance. On opening night, the ovens broke down and could not be restarted. The restaurant served an elegant buffet of cold dishes and plenty of wine – free!
“These are great examples of businesses going the extra mile for their customers, and it’s important that you help your employees develop this kind of thinking,” says Kaufman.
In your next staff meeting, review a few customer-service recovery interactions that have happened to you, and then have your staff brainstorm ways the recovery could have been improved. Here are some examples.
• Sending out a corrected order within 24 hours, at your expense.
• Overnighting the part of the order needed immediately.
• Delivering the order yourself.
• Crediting back the amount overpaid now.
• Giving a customer a free gift for waiting in line so long.
• Substituting a temporarily out of stock bulletin board set with another, similar, one at a discount.
8. Train them to tell customers how they will solve the problem
Explain what steps you will take to correct the mistake, and tell them when you will get back in touch with the results. Thank them for giving you the opportunity to set things right.
“When a mistake has been made – or even when a customer perceives that a mistake was made – apologize first,” says Kaufman. “After that, provide any useful information you can about what will happen next. Ask the customer if she has any questions and answer them to the best of your ability. If you don’t have an answer, let her know what steps you’re going to take to find it.
“Show that you’re sincere about your commitment to do well in the areas the customer values,” Kaufman adds. “At the very least, you can say, ‘I’m going to make sure everyone who works here hears your story. We don’t want this to happen again.’”
Encourage your employees to develop their own signature service touches. Sometimes they can have a big impact. Small changes can lead to big leaps in customer perception, and they don’t have to be costly at all.
9. Provide a weekly service thought
A message about the importance of service or how to improve service each week can be posted in the breakroom or emailed to every employee. It can be as simple as an inspiring quote, or a link to an article with an example of great service. Not only will it inspire employees, it also gets everyone on the same page and discussing the same service ideas.
10. Emphasize service with new hires and back-to-school help
Company orientations are often little more than robotic introductions, if they’re conducted at all. They often do not connect new employees to the business or service culture in a welcoming and motivating way.
“Developing service-minded, service-driven employees will be worth every ounce of energy you put into it,” says Kaufman. “When you take steps to build a strong service team, everyone is fully engaged, encouraging each other, improving the customer experience, and making the company more successful.”