Keep Your Customers by Keeping Your Promises
"We're job one!" "The customer is our business!" "The customer comes first!"
These are all well-known branding statements built around the belief that differentiated customer service drives profits. And these statements are correct—if and only if these promises are kept. Most businesses today claim to be committed to the customer and to make service a high priority. Many go so far as to make service statements like the ones above to differentiate their brand. Your company may not have chosen to use service as a branding component, but I'd bet that service is talked about and emphasized enough that your staff has gotten the message that they need to promise great customer service.
In fact, your staff may be making service promises every day in response to management comments. An executive can talk abstractly about service one day in a speech only to see her pronouncements translated into a promise that the staff then carries directly to the customers. The senior management of one of our clients recently attended an internal sales meeting and discussed management's efforts to work with suppliers to reduce the number of back orders and to fulfill them within 30 days. The next day, sales people began telling customers they'd get their back-ordered items within 30 days. Even though the issue of back orders had not been totally or officially resolved, what began as an objective quickly became a promise—a promise that the company was not ready to keep.
If you have chosen to make service a part of your brand, or you have at least made service promises to your customers, they must be kept, or customers will eventually move to your competition. In some organizations, meeting the customer's service needs and expectations is a matter of luck rather than strategy: They were simply fortunate in hiring employees who were naturally dedicated to serving others. Such good fortune, however, doesn't last, and companies that bank on it will invariably be last in their industry.
Instead of relying on luck, your organization can take some basic steps to greatly improve your odds of keeping service promises:
- Create a "Service Leadership" team of representatives from senior management, operations, product development, marketing, sales, and finance.
- Define your company's "Service Promise" and incorporate it as part of the organization's mission and vision statements.
- Define and distribute specific service standards for each department.
- Train the entire company in those standards and how to deliver superior service.
- Develop a formal "Service Recovery System" and monitor failures for process improvement.
- Define and assign the responsibility for monitoring your service promises.
- Develop an ongoing service improvement methodology.
Keeping Promises Protects and Increases Your Bottom Line
Committing to delivering high levels of service that truly drive your bottom line is difficult and requires real discipline. If your company is willing to make a long-term commitment to the hard work of delivering differentiated service, you should begin by developing a service quality program that includes the key elements of service quality improvement: define, measure, innovate, train, and sustain. Here are the key steps:
- Define your service promises and standards and build those standards into job descriptions.
- Measure your success at meeting those standards and include service performance in performance evaluations.
- Innovate by continuously improving and refining your service.
- Train the entire company and develop ongoing programs that will keep the company focused on service.
- Sustain the enthusiasm for increased customer satisfaction by broadcasting the effects of service initiatives and rewarding those employees who exceed your standards.
Most importantly, listen to your customers. They will tell you what they expect and how you can meet those expectations. Delivering differentiated service is not an event; it's a journey that starts with keeping your service promises today.
Shelley F. Hall, author of Brick Wall Breakthrough – What The @#$% Do I Do Next? Actions for Exceptional Sales and Service (Page Court Press), is a highly successful entrepreneur and corporate fugitive who has built, reinvented and turned-around numerous companies. Hall is principal, managing director of Catalytic Management LLC (http://www.catalyticmanagement.com), a leading management consulting firm delivering consulting and training that accelerates business growth through improved sales, service, and process improvement.