A wealth of information tools suggests the use of technology for customer relations. Ironically, customer service is about relationships not technology. Unfortunately relationships cannot be augmented with software and Internet tools. Nothing takes the place of direct contact and human interaction; our ancestral history is based on this. Further, communication is the single largest issue in customer service and it must be done without technology. So what then are the best methods for retaining clients without technology? They are simply people, procedures and property.
There is nothing more prevalent to business then internal employees: they are the frontline to the organization. Peter Drucker once stated that, "organizations exist for one reason — the customer." Failure to exemplify a customer culture only diminishes a firm's ability to communicate and collaborate with clients.
I recall a visit to my chiropractor. Once inside I walked to the reception counter only to be greeted by a receptionist who did not look me in the eye, frowned incessantly, and was apathetic. I soon found another chiropractor.
Employees are those that interface with clients and exude the passion for the business's products and services. Hiring individuals that exemplify apathy only harm the organization. The key to customer service is differentiation. The manner in which clients are serviced helps to offer competitive differentiation.
In addition, proper customer service provides marketing avatars. When clients are serviced appropriately they inform others of their positive experience. Such feedback assists with decreasing marketing and advertising costs while also retaining clients.
Technology or ridiculous procedures that interfere in organizational relationships exasperate clients. Surveys illustrate that the automated voice mail prompts continually frustrate clients. Providing myriad voice prompts requiring restatements of data is wasteful. Companies that use live operators and automatically address needs consistently win client satisfaction.
Other procedural errors can complicate client relations. At the visitation window in my physician's office, nurses and staff hide behind the glass with only a clipboard to inform of arrivals. The frosted-glass panes call to mind church penance or perhaps a shower stall. Proper customer service implies human interaction not bromide procedures to secure confidentiality or increase production. If the former, secure documents, the latter hire better employees but do not barricade human interaction. Rather find ways that lower obstacles and allow for immediate client engagement. Clearly a large reception counter and a big smile extend further than ineffective practices.
One last procedural gaffe of organizations is the desire to offer specials for the purposes of obtaining new clients. Recently a vendor offered a 20 percent discount on products — but only for new clients. Nothing is more frustrating to old clients then declaration specials for new clients. Research shows it costs thirty percent more to gain a new client than to maintain current. It is more important to provide "gifts" to those that have maintained loyalty than those seeking competitive alternatives. How long will they remain? Always follow the Drucker formula here and create procedures that maintain client loyalty.
Individuals always judge books by their covers — and clients are no different. Clients are either attracted or dissuaded by client images. On a recent appointment with a supplier, I could not find a spot to park my car. On a visit with a new customer, I entered the lobby only to discover the aftereffects of what emulated a hurricane. These images leave a certain perception of company operations. If organizations exemplify such disarray, how might they treat clients? Simply put pictures say a thousand worlds.
Some of the best methods to illustrate your admiration for clients, includes egress to parking, well lit buildings with smiling staff and signage, brochures that clearly express service offerings and lobbies or front entrances that are inviting. Finally staff should be dressed to greet clients, the use of casual attire only decreases image. Organizations that build a culture of client awareness and enthusiasm are those that thrive.
While there is a wealth of data to support the need for technology to assist with client relations, nontraditional means are more important. What is not found in technology are the components that help to build and increase collaboration and commitment to clients. Today, competition is too strong and clients are too influenced by others. The vital components that offer differentiation and maintain client relationships are those that exemplify the respect and the trust of clients.
About the Author
Drew Stevens, Ph.D., works with organizations to dramatically accelerate revenue. Dr. Drew is the author of six books, including Split Second Customer Service and the soon-to-be-released Ultimate Business Bible. He is also the creator of the Sales Leadership Certificate, one of only 14 programs in the United States offering an accredited degree in the profession of selling, and has a top-ranked podcast called Sales Fitness with Dr. Drew. To book Dr. Drew for a workshop or keynote or to obtain his Secrets of Ultimate Business Success email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors.
You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" below.
If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.
For the rest of the May 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here.