In search of inspiration, I cracked open my copy of Re-imagine! I haven’t read it in some time, but I couldn’t help smiling as I turned the pages. Tom Peters is at his ranting best as he sounds the wake up alarm for businesses and individuals alike. Published in 2003, it is almost a little spooky to read Tom’s predictions about the future (many have come to pass already) about things like personal branding, HR, supply chain management, the web, talent attraction and development, or the value of running departments like accounting as internal professional service firms. In the wake of 9/11, Tom’s book challenges us to re-envision what is possible. The visual impact of the Re-Imagine! and Tom’s prophetic words make this book a must read for anyone looking to reinvent themselves or their businesses.
In the past, I’ve written about the lack of attention far too many companies place on delivering a customer experience that wows. Being the optimist that I am, I keep hoping with fingers tightly crossed that companies will eventually get it. And you’d think that with times being what they are, the emphasis on delighting customers would be a big priority. Oh, if only that were true!
The dismal customer service that I have received these past few months from a company that has had my business for almost 5 years is what prompted me to write about service again. The experience has me thinking about what can happen when a family owned business is bought out by a mega corporation who clearly doesn’t care if customers are happy or not. This company is stagnating – not an innovative thinker in sight. No matter what the situation, they not only have one excuse after another, but after 5 months they have yet to resolve the problem. Frankly, I don’t care about their operational issues or the lack of staff, though I will say that if you must reduce your staff, please make sure you don’t keep the village idiot on board. Whatever their problems, they are not mine! I’m a paying customer who expects accurate billing and promises kept. What about you?
In the bestseller, The Pursuit of WOW! Tom Peters reminds us that 70% of customers hit the road NOT because of price or product quality issues, but because they did not like the human side of doing business with the provider of the product or service. Research conducted by The Forum Corporation supports this fact and indicates that 45% of these same customers said they switched to another company because the attention they did receive was poor in quality.
Is providing great customer service really that difficult? IBM founder Thomas Watson is attributed with saying, “if you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work”. Delivering WOW service is a commitment to do whatever it takes to serve the customer, and that commitment must be imprinted on the hearts and minds of every single employee. Only then can any organization stand apart from their competition.
Based on my own professional experience, I have defined four rules crucial to delivering winning customer service:
Rule #1: Listen! When customers complain there is a reason. Hear them out. This is an opportunity to make it right and to learn something. Listen without interrupting, giving excuses or arguing.
Rule #2: Don’t take it personally. Customer complaints are about products or services that did not live up to their expectations. Taking it personally, getting defensive, or getting angry only makes the situation worse.
Rule #3: Offer a sincere apology for the inconvenience and then fix the problem! Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Consider how you feel when something you bought didn’t do the intended job or caused an even bigger problem than the one it was supposed to fix.
Rule #4: Never say, “It’s not my job, my department, or my responsibility.” If you work at the company that made the product or sold the service – it is your job! Make a personal commitment to do whatever it takes to fix the problem even if it is not in your job description.
In the end, only those companies with an ongoing commitment to listen and serve can consistently keep their customers delighted and buying from them. Now would be an ideal time for my vendor to heed these words!