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Two Keys to Customer Service

Organizations today face a maze of shifting business conditions - often beyond control. One trend everyone recognizes is customers' increasing demands for service. It seems unending. Can it ever be fully satisfied?

In a word, no! Customers are ever more demanding. Harry Beckwith, author of What Clients Love: a Field Guide to Growing Your Business, suggests Today's abundance enhances customers' sense of importance and feelings of entitlement. As our abundance increases - which it always has over time - entitlement will increase and satisfying customers will become more difficult. Customer service, therefore, is an unending battle. There are, however, two sure-fire routes to improving customer satisfaction.

The first is to master the welcome. Research has shown that the first five seconds - the greeting, the welcome, and the customer service representative or receptionist's answer - influence customer satisfaction more than any other act. The welcome, therefore, is the magic moment in customer service.

We're all customers. We all crave respect, regard and esteem from others. Beckwith suggests few forces drive us more than finding our place in the world. He states Whenever you try to satisfy a client, one feeling dominates the transaction: that person's need to feel important. Beckwith believes that customers feel upset over failed service, not because of the inconvenience or cost, but because they feel slighted. They do not rage because a clerk did not care enough about his or her job. They rage because the clerk did not care enough about them. Customers take customer service mistakes personally. Mistakes are about them.

Customers love people who greet them warmly, who care about them and show it with gestures that tell customers you really matter. Customers will forgive these people their stumbles and mistakes. First impressions, in many instances, really are the impressions that last.

It's worth noting that the power of the welcome is focused on walk-in services. The interpersonal element is more important in face-to-face situations where it is easier to pick up cues from facial expressions and body language than on the telephone. A retailer that understands the power of the welcome is Wal-Mart. Their greeters meet you immediately upon entry.

The second sure-fire route to improving customer satisfaction is to get faster. Customers today feel rushed. Years ago customers used their time waiting in line to chat with each other. Today, they simply can't wait.

Citizens First research, conducted for the Public Sector Service Delivery Council of The Institute of Public Administration of Canada, found that timeliness is a key driver of customer satisfaction irrespective of the service-delivery channel used. Speed is important to both walk-in and telephone services. Even online interactions will be abandoned if users are delayed in navigating the system or in downloading information.

Time counts. Customers treasure their time. Organizations will benefit if they treasure it too. How fast do you answer the phone, reply to letters and return e-mail? Look at every customer activity and measure or estimate how long it takes. Then find ways of reducing it. Speed works.

In today's environment it is important to focus scarce resources on factors providing maximum leverage. Mastering the welcome and speed initiatives are two sure-fire ways for improving customer service and increasing customer satisfaction.