What is your company’s service promise? Do you have one? If you do, has that promise been communicated to your internal customers and your external customers?
Do you have clearly defined service standards in place? Do you train your employees on those standards and then measure performance based on those standards?
A customer service strategy is just as important as a sales and marketing strategy. The customer service strategy supports your overall business goals. A successful sales and marketing strategy gets customers in the door; a successful customer service strategy keeps the customers coming back.
A customer service strategy needs to include the following:
- A service promise. The service promise supports your company’s overall mission and goals.
- The service expectations of your customers, based on the product or service that you offer. Remember, you can’t be all things to all people. Who are your customers, who is your target market and what do they want? If you offer thick, juicy made to order burgers, you will not be able to provide a two minute burger. That’s what fast food restaurants are for.
- Customer feedback. Your customer service strategy needs to include a process to generate and review customer comments and feedback, both internal and external customers. Don’t assume you know what your customers/ employees want. Ask them! You may find out that there are some significant gaps that you can address and still stay true to your business model.
- Clearly defined service standards. Telling your employees to be friendly isn’t enough. What does friendly look like? How do you want “friendly” conveyed on the telephone? Some examples of customer service standards are: a) All incoming phone calls will be answered with the greeting “Thank you for calling Servicedge Consulting & Training. This is Laurie speaking. How may I help you?”; b) Customers will receive a response to a voice mail messages within 4 hours. While you’re at it, create internal customer service standards as well. The service that is provided to internal customers tends to flow to external customers. Be sure that everyone in your company clearly understands the importance of internal customer service.
- A training plan. Your employees need to know what you expect from them if you want them to provide consistent service. What training do new hires need? What about training for long-time employees? Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that employees who have been with us for awhile are trained and we forget about them. Don’t make that mistake. It can be easy to fall into a rut after doing the same job for a long time. On-going training helps to keep those expectations front and centre.
- Performance management: In order for the service standards to be adopted by your team, they need to know that you take it seriously enough to evaluate whether or not the standards are being followed. Take the time to recognize and reward employees who are providing the service levels that you ask for. Provide additional coaching and mentoring when the service standards are not being followed.
- Plan for mistakes: The reality is that there will be mistakes made, either due to errors by your employees or by your suppliers. Take the time to identify potential errors and come up with service recovery options. Share those options with your employees so that when errors happen, they know what they can do to try and resolve the situation immediately.
If your company doesn’t have a clearly defined service strategy in place, I encourage you to take the time to create one. While you probably won’t envision every situation or customer touch point, a well thought out plan will reduce the number of customer complaints and service issues that you need to handle. Besides, just like your sales and marketing strategy, your customer service strategy needs to be reviewed and revised on a regular basis.
(Note: This is a slightly revised update of a blog originally posted in late 2011.)