Customer Service is Not Dead

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How often are you really “wowed” by an employee of a store, Customer Service/Support group or entertainment venue (e.g., theater, restaurant, amusement park)?

If your experiences are similar to most of the rest of the general public, the answer to this question would most likely be,”seldom, if ever.”

Today’s sad reality is that out of hundreds/thousands of interactions we have each week, month and year, most of us would only be able to come up with a handful to which we could attribute experiencing the “wow” factor.

Early on in my working career, I was told, “with customers you do transactions, with clients you build long-term relationships, and we are in the relationship business,” (I worked in the banking industry for 25 years before joining Szarka Financial in 2003). They were correct. Over the years I saw first-hand that “people do business with people, not companies.” Truly successful organizations are built upon a foundation of putting the best interest of their clients before their own. In the financial planning business, we call that acting in a fiduciary capacity. Doing so seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? It should be, but sadly, for many companies, that philosophy is merely talked about rather than demonstrated consistently through actions.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had more than my share of eye-rolling, head-shaking customer service experiences. Thankfully, I’ve seen some things recently that have renewed my faith that customer service is not dead. The items I’m sharing below cost very little to do. The real investment is in the commitment to execute such things on a consistent basis: Our Receptionist/Administrative Assistant was taken out to lunch by a friend to celebrate her birthday. The friend made mention of the birthday to one of the hostesses when they were being seated. When they left, she was given a beautiful card containing the hand-written message, “Thank you for allowing us to help celebrate your birthday today!” Nicely done, Olive Garden! By the way, she’s already shown that card to everyone in the office (and who knows how many family members and friends), and I’m guessing that at least some of them will wind up at that same location soon for lunch or dinner.

The Vice Principal at a northeast Ohio high school (Riverside High School in Painesville, OH), wanted to find an easy-to-use tool to communicate positive comments about students to their parents. He called it, “Riverside Recognition”. It is a simple postcard that contains some nice pictures of the school and some students along with space for comments. The teachers love using them. Parents truly appreciate receiving them (they are sent by teachers, with their “recognition” commentary, to the students’ parents) and the students seem to be improving their behavior to “earn” more Recognition postcards. This is a win-win-win.

Over a recent weekend, there were some odd issues with our email service at the office. I called our IT/network provider and was very pleased that he responded quickly, even though I had left him a voice mail message late on a Friday evening and did not really expect any response until the next business day (it was not an urgent matter). He fully understands, and cares about, the fact that our computer system/network is critical to the day-to-day operation of our company and that some of our folks put in extra hours on weekends. He never stops earning our business.

This is just a sample of those people/providers that “get it”, who understand that we are their clients, that they must continue to earn our business with each and every interaction and that ultimately, we are their best source of repeat business and referrals of new clients.

So, I’d like to offer up a couple of tips for you to consider, whether you are the owner of a small business, the president of a large company, the “IT guy”, a teacher or administrator in a school system or the coach of your child’s little league team:

Understand who your customers & clients are and focus on putting their best interests before your own. In a school system, for example, clients are the students AND their parents. Make them happy and it will be a whole lot easier to pass that next levy.

A client is not just the person in front of you or at the other end of the phone or email message, the client relationship extends well beyond that to anyone who may wind up using or become aware of the product or service you are providing (i.e., that person’s friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.).

Great customer/client service does NOT come as a result of some fancy wording on a poster in the employee lunchroom, it must be part of the culture of your organization and everyone must be on the same page regarding such. Great servicing does not result from words, but from actions.

Get the right people on your team. Great coaches will tell you that game plans don’t win games, getting players on the team that can and are passionate about executing the plan wins games. People, not words on a poster, reflect the culture of your organization. Culture is the energy that permeates throughout the entire organization and drives it forward.

Be accountable. Over the course of my 35+ year career, I’ve seen again and again that a client’s opinion of a company is more often forged as a result of how mistakes/errors are resolved than just how things are handled when everything goes well. Every person, every company will at some point make a mistake. How those mistakes are rectified in the eyes of the affected client plays a key role in the overall development of a long-term relationship.

Thus, I challenge you to step back and assess if you have customers or clients. Do you have a willingness to try and turn your customers into clients? If so, start working on a plan to begin building a true relationship…one that turns customers into clients and clients into “raving fans” of your people and your organization. And, be certain that your culture is ultimately focused on putting your clients’ best interest first.

Doing so builds a much clearer path to success.