Perfecting Your Service Business
Imagine how much more successful could your business be if you managed the experience your customers receive with as much care and attention as you manage your financials? Typically with new clients, they’ll tell me "What makes us different is our customer service", which is a great starting point. However, once we start to dig below the surface into the fundamentals of what make businesses thrive, there are almost always overlooked or underdeveloped areas that could exponentially help deliver a world-class customer experience.
Service-based businesses have a different set of challenges than product-based businesses. Service is a real-time, immediate event – it can’t be stored for an eventual sale. Service is a consumable – today’s service experience can’t be reused like a trusty hammer. Service is people-dependent – the service person may use tools and products, but the core of the service experience is the interaction with the service person herself. Service has a high degree of customization – the same service person can tailor their delivery to meet the unique needs of individual customers, if equipped to do so.
These attributes – immediacy, one-time consumption, highly-customized and people-dependent – drive a high priority on creating a truly customer-centric work environment. This goes beyond being intentional about building a great culture for your people. Yes, “happy employees, happy customers” is true – but not sufficient.
The best environments for supporting and sustaining extraordinary customer service include:
- A deep understanding of your customers. Of all the service attributes you can influence (such as comfort, responsiveness, technical skills, communications skills, reliability, transparency, problem solving, etc.) which ones are most important to your customers? What tools do you use to capture your customers’ expectations (including their unspoken expectations) and equip your team to meet them? Develop a clear understanding of what your customers expect at every significant interaction with them, from mechanics (process adherence, speed and quality) to how they are feeling going into the interaction.
- Measuring what matters most to your customers. Key measurements can be internally generated (such as orders shipped on-time) and/or taken from external sources (such as customer surveys). What one or two things do you do that matter the most to your customers? How can you prove that you’re excelling in those areas? How is customer feedback used to identify recurring problems and drive continuous improvement? How thoroughly do you share service performance results with your team in order to focus them on service improvement priorities?
- A proactive management approach. A proactive approach encourages customers and employees to give you objective feedback about your business. Data and ad hoc feedback are used to determine priorities for investing in the tools and skills that will have the biggest impacts on customer retention, resales and referrals. How do you “inspect what you expect” when it comes to assuring your customers are getting the experience they expect? Do you have data to show that your business is performing better this year than last year in the areas customers care about the most?
- Hiring and training to reinforce your brand. You think of your front-line and service employees as “brand ambassadors” – the way they look, listen, interact and perform under pressure says everything about what your company values. How effective is your process for recruiting, interviewing and hiring the right people to add to your team? How do you equip them to consistently deliver the service experience your customers expect? How do you train and incent them to use every customer interaction to strengthen the relationship with your business, rather than just getting a job done?
- Expertise in Setting and Managing Expectations. Missing expectations is the single biggest cause of customer dissatisfaction. Yet, expectation-setting meetings are often down-played or are viewed as distasteful when customer relationships are shiny-new and optimistic. It’s always best to have a two-way dialogue with customers about the result they can expect from doing business with you. Explain how the business works for them. Be prepared to describe who is involved or responsible in delivery, what will happen, when results or commitments will be met. A new customer will quite often have unrealistic expectations of your business. Your customers may not understand their role in getting the most out of your business. Be honest and precise about what both parties can expect from the other, and then check in from time-to-time to ensure that expectations on both sides are being met.
It’s not enough to simply have people who are good at their work, and it’s not enough to hire people who love working with others. All your competitors can boast those same things. What will make you stand out is having a management approach in place that positions your employees to deliver, expertly and repeatedly, a service experience that is faithful to you customers’ expectations.