Taking Stock of Your Customer Service Level

In these times of tough competition, your store depends on repeat customers for survival. Giving great service not only keeps present customers but will create new customers as well. Many companies already understand this and have made a full commitment to courtesy and customer service excellence. They know that trying to compete on the basis of product or price is insufficient. In addition, courtesy is a variable that can distinguish a store without increasing expenses or reducing prices.

A great deal of research on customer service has revealed that it is five times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an old one. If so, then why do so many companies spend thousands of dollars on advertising to attract new customers through the front door, while they drive their old customers out the back door? It's largely a matter of inattention to competent, courteous service.

Dissatisfied customers often share their unpleasant experiences with other potential customers. How do we measure the cost of an unhappy customer? Let's look at some significant findings from a 1985 study conducted for the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, as reported by the Research Institute of America:

  • 96 percent of unhappy customers never complain about rude or discourteous treatment; but
  • 90 percent or more who are dissatisfied with the service they receive will not buy again or come back;
  • worse still,
  • each of these unhappy customers will tell his or her story to at least nine other people: and
  • 13 percent of those unhappy former customers will tell their stories to more than 20 people.

A repeat customer is your bread and butter. So why quibble over some little thing that the customer thinks is not right? People who believe in service excellence make things right: they want their customers to come back. And they consciously create an awareness in their customers' minds that their service is a "cut above" the competition.

Customer Service and Leadership

Quality customer service depends on effective manager-employee relations. Managers who can instill the values that motivate excellent customer service know that high performance doesn't happen by chance. It requires leadership and support.

"The purpose of every business is to create and keep a customer."

-Peter Drucker 1973

Customer service training is an on-going process. Simply telling people what you want and what's going to happen is only the beginning. The most common training of this type is new employee orientation. If training stops at orientation, you will not achieve customer service excellence.

Beyond orientation, an effective training program should include special knowledge and skills training (role playing, simulation, storytelling, etc.) and the all important followup: on-the-Job coaching, which includes feedback, reward, reinforcement and recognition.

Consistent coaching and positive reinforcement are some of the management tools that foster a commitment to courtesy throughout your organization. It's also very important to understand what motivates each individual and how to communicate the basic beliefs and values that everyone holds in common.

Employees who take the Initiative to provide polite, helpful and attentive service can give their store a powerful competitive edge. However, managers can't leave this initiative to chance. We must support our people with training so that everyone has the ability and opportunity to take the initiative. We'll make more progress when we begin to comprehend the critical connection between customer service and leadership.

Taking Stock

What is the "courtesy quotient" in my organization, and how do I improve it? Presented here are steps toward answering these questions. In evaluating our customer service level, we can take stock of this important variable by answering the following:

  • Is there a customer suggestion box in the store?
  • Is there an employee suggestion box in the building?
  • Are the suggestion boxes displayed prominently with good signage that invites input, and does the input receive a quick response?
  • Do you conduct customer satisfaction surveys annually?
  • Do you receive and handle complaints in a timely manner?
  • Are incoming telephone calls being handled professionally?
  • Do the people who work here feel good about the company and their role in it?
  • If some employees don't feel good about themselves and/or their Job, is it realistic to expect them to help other people feel good?
  • Are your "high touch" people (cashiers, sales team, receptionists, etc.) producing the desired result:
  • happy customers who are advocates for your store?

If you answered no to any of these questions: What is lacking in the current orientation and training programs? How can the training system be upgraded?

If you answered yes to many of these questions: Congratulations to your people and your customers!

You can make it a priority to increase your customer service level with the assurance that sales will increase accordingly. Make your uncommon courtesy campaign a crusade, and take "improve customer service" off your list of things to do.

See other articles from this issue: #014 December - January - 1988