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CUSTOMER SERVICE: Back to the Basics – Principles of Quality Customer Service

lisa 1.1webThinking about my blog topic for this week, I began to search for the newest and most innovative thoughts on customer service. Who has written a new book? Is there a new catch phrase out there? Then I stopped myself.

The keys to exceptional customer service are action steps, not gimmicks. What sets you and the customer service “greats” like Zappos, Apple or Amazon apart is the ability to deliver excellence in each customer interaction, every time. Just head to the Apple website, for instance – I couldn’t find a word on their customer philosophy or values, but I did see a ton of options and ways to get customer support. Bingo, actions spoke louder than words to me.

Providing the right customer service begins with five basic and fundamental concepts in delivering quality:

1. Know your customers and their needs. Sounds simple and obvious yet again, takes effort to continuously learn who your customers are and what they expect of you. Your customer yesterday is not the same as your customer today – external or internal.  First step in exceptional customer service is being able to define both your external (outside the organization) and internal (inside the organization) customers. This is based on the simple definition that a customer is anyone who depends on you for a service or product. Pay attention to your customer and learn as much about them as you can – where did they come from, who are they, and what do they expect from you?

Quality-Customer-Service-ImGetting them to say “yes” to your products or services may be as much about liking your organization and your employees as anything else. With this in mind, do you work hard at knowing your customers and what they like or dislike? I believe that many of us like to be recognized, valued and appreciated; in what ways do you show your customers that you value and appreciate them? For me, Amazon does that best – frankly, I think Amazon knows more about my buying habits and likes/dislikes than I do.

2. Deliver quality products and services. Do you know what your customer expects from you or your department? Do you know how they define desired or delighted service? If you don’t know, it’s hit or miss as to whether you’ll deliver it or not. What you may think is quality, may not be “quality” to someone else. Again, give your customers a way to express their voice and be aggressive in your desire to listen to them.

According to the May 2011 American Express Global Customer service barometer, “78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of poor customer service.” Furthermore, according to Parature Customer Service blog, “Poor customer experiences result in an estimated $83 billion loss by US enterprises each year because of defections and abandoned purchases.”

Finally, once you have quality products and services defined, capture them in standards and service level agreements to provide clear expectations and consistency in delivery.

3. Correct deviations from customer expectations.  Having a philosophy, values and standards does nothing if there is no accountability for their adherence. All employees have to become responsible for: knowing the expectations for service delivery and getting the training and decision making to meet the performance expectations. All levels of management or teams must make it a priority to address deviations. Giving customers as many avenues as possible to talk to you will help you to gain the information you need before their disappointment gets posted on Facebook, Youtube or another social media forum.

4. Strengthen customer loyalty and service. Here, we must respond quickly to resolve customer complaints, and when I say “quick,” I mean “quick.” The RightNow Customer Experience Impact 2011 Report indicated that “50% of consumers give a brand only one week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them.” Successfully resolving a customer issue is the fastest way to build customer loyalty. Once your employees know and understand this truth, they will come to learn that problems with customers result in a great opportunity to build brand and company loyalty, resulting in more customers and more sales.

5. Maximize satisfaction and retention.  Gaining feedback at various moments of the customer experience will tell you where you stand. Use dashboards or scoreboards to let your staff know what the customer has to say about your work area or department. Let your customers know that you are important to them and you want their continued business.

Finally, make sure the “customer” is front and center in your strategic objectives – organizational or departmental. If you are looking for some places to start, you can begin by answering some of these basic service questions:

  1. Would your customers recommend your products or services to another external customer or internal department? What would they say about your delivery of service?
  2. Would they describe your organization, department or work area’s ability to deliver those products or services as seamless from one individual to another or do they prefer to work with this one or that one only?
  3. How would they describe the quality of what they receive?
  4. Would they describe your product or service as the “best” it could be? Do they see your department or organization as always striving to do it better, faster, more accurately?
  5. Are your processes and systems working efficiently and effectively or do they meet with errors and issues?
  6. Are you consistent in your delivery of those quality products and services?
  7. Do you ask your customer at every opportunity about the service or products you provide? Do you regularly learn about them, their expectations and beliefs about service?
  8. Do you provide the responsiveness they expect in each and every interaction? Do you ever delight the customer with something special and unexpected?

In the end though, it’s really all about helping people – to have fun, look good, make a quality product, be profitable, learn something and so on. So, let me ask you: how well did you help someone today?

Needing more insight on building a quality customer service platform?  Download our free article Refocusing Your Customer Service Effort today!



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