Make sure your company gives customer service a good name

“This is the customer disservice department - how may I hinder you?” How many times have we heard that? Well, not in so many words, but certainly in attitude and action (or often, inertia).

All of us probably believe good customer service is important - after all, we all like to be on the receiving end of it. But how do companies actually achieve it - the sense that the company has listened, cared, and delivered? Here are five steps to help you make it happen.

Understand that customer service is an attitude, not a department

Everyone in the organisation has to take their share of responsibility for customer service. Ultimately, the best customer service is about getting things right in the first place - and that’s up to the whole team. Whether the Marketing or Sales Department takes functional responsibility matters less than ensuring an attitude of service permeates the organisation.

Get good frontline staff

Even when the whole organisation pulls together, some staff will be at the sharp end, answering queries and delivering the bad news. So make sure they are excellent, and feel valued - good frontline staff are worth their weight in gold. There are a few things to look for when recruiting customer service staff. You’ll need positive people. People who see speaking to customers as an opportunity, not an interruption. People with empathy, who can put themselves into the customer’s shoes and deliver the kind of service they themselves would like to receive. People who can understand the company’s values, and use their initiative to demonstrate these meaningfully to customers.

Train your frontline staff

It’s vital your staff know your products and services inside out - so induct them well, and follow up with regular refresher trainer. Prepare crib sheets of frequently asked questions. Give them the ’big picture’, so they understand reasons for things, not just rules and policies without justification. Give them as much experience as is practical of every branch of the business. If they’re office based, get them out to see customers face to face once in a while. Above all, set standards for customer service, so it’s clear what is expected - and know how you’re going to measure performance.

Empower your frontline staff.

When you’ve trained your good people, give them some authority to use initiative. You’re paying them to do a job - don’t do it yourself. Don’t insist they get your approval on everything, or:

  • You’ll rapidly make them feel unvalued and demotivated
  • They’ll stop being the kind of people you need them to be
  • They’ll never stand on their own two feet (easier not to); and
  • You’ll forever be wondering why you spend your time sorting out grass-roots customer issues. Give them clear parameters so they know when something must be referred to you. Just make sure it’s only the really important things.

Listen to your frontline staff.

Make a point of regularly asking them what’s going on in the market place. What are customers saying? Are there any key customer or supplier issues you need to know about? Any notable victories or disasters? They should be able to give you an intelligent view of the situation - without exaggerating or ranting. What they know can be a useful barometer for what’s happening in the wider market.

Annette Harpham is a committee member for CIMCIG, The Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group. She is Principal of SharpEdge Marketing, which offers marketing consultancy, freelance marketing management, marketing training, and copywriting.