BY ADELE CASANOVA
In today’s highly competitive business environment, consumers expect excellent customer service. Customer service is just as important to many consumers as price. So, as a business owner or manager, how do you develop and maintain top-notch customer service? Process development, training, tools, consistency, and communication are five key management concepts to employ for excellent customer service.
- Process – Developing and documenting the process by which you want your business to run is critical, not only for good customer service, but for overall business success. An easy way to envision what process means is to consider fast-food restaurants. The high-volume production, packaging, and delivery of the food products requires detailed, well researched, and documented processes to guarantee consistent quality in a timely, profitable manner. Imagine all the steps of each encounter between customers and employees that occur in your business from greeting to completion of the transaction. Break down each step and document how you want the staff to complete the tasks. This eliminates assumptions by staff on how to represent your business, and leads to the next four key concepts.
- Training – Set up a training process and be sure that every employee is taken through this same process. Don’t be afraid to be as detailed as possible when describing what staff is expected to do and say in each step of the client interaction. This detailed direction gives employees confidence in performance and, more importantly, sets up quality customer service expectations for the customers. When customers receive consistent, well-trained service, right down to greetings and closing remarks, each time they visit your business, they go away with a sense of confidence in the service standards that they will return to enjoy.
- Tools – Empowering employees with the tools and knowledge that they need to do the best possible job is one of the surest ways to guarantee great customer service, even when management is not present. Tools can include training manuals, quick reference menus of step-by-step instruction for more difficult tasks, and in-depth knowledge of products and how they might work together. Also, crisis training is invaluable for staff to deftly deal with the occasional negative customer experience and to defray a crisis in customer service. Training classes outside of regular work hours, without clients, using role-play and discussing past crisis management will prepare staff to better handle the unexpected.
- Consistency – Stressing to employees the importance of consistency of service and product delivery is critical in establishing a reputation for customer service. Think of when you have visited a corporate-owned store or business and reflect on the consistency of the language and manner of service you experienced at each visit. If the corporate store delivered consistent quality and service, you can be sure that process development, training, and adequate tools were provided to the employees to deliver it in each and every transaction.
- Communication – This last concept is a key proponent of excellent customer service. Through open and continual communication, consistency in outstanding customer service can be maintained. When employees make errors or step out of the process, communication with them about expectations and the possible need for additional training can help avoid fear or resentment between management and staff. Staff recommendations for improved customer service should be listened to with sincere interest and discussed with respect. Open communication as a management style leads to a content and confident staff. A harmonious environment where staff feels appreciated and valued will result in a positive business culture, an essential aspect for exceptional customer service.