The Price of Bad Customer Service

It was 1984.

A colleague of mine had an unpleasant exchange with a ticket agent who was rescheduling his flight. The agent made a snarky remark, further frustrating the process, and my colleague said, "I'm done with this airline."

Fast-forward 31 years. My friend still hasn't flown on the offending airline, but he has accumulated 3 million miles on others. He's now a senior leader at a Fortune 50 firm. He recently held a national conference and requested that his team not fly on this airline either.

Yes, my friend's boycott seems extreme. But is it, really? You've likely taken similar stands when you've received bad customer service. Maybe you made a silent protest, vowing never to visit a business again. Or perhaps you've publicized your displeasure by telling your network or writing an online review.

Whenever bad service happens, there's a cost involved. It could be a damaged relationship, a missed opportunity, or a dropped account. A bad service experience can even result in millions of dollars of lost revenue.

If you're a manager reading this, you understand the potential impact your client-facing team has on the business. But when was the last time you challenged yourself to see if you're doing everything you can to prevent poor customer service from happening?

Ask yourself:

When was the last time my team had training? When you get your team together, it not only refreshes them on customer service fundamentals, but also provides them with the opportunity to share ideas on overcoming difficult situations or scoring points with customers.

Do we have a set of standards or values to abide by when managing customer relations? We've all heard the phrase "the customer is always right." Client-facing employees need guidelines to fall back on when they are dealing with difficult situations. When organizations have standards and values related to customer service, it helps front-line employees understand what actions to take to either diffuse tense situations or take the initiative on behalf of the customer.

Do my team members understand the short- and long-term impact their actions have on the business? Many people lose sight of how their actions connect to the organization's success. Business leaders need to make a habit of reminding their teams that their actions and attitudes can either win or lose business in an instant.

What checks do I have in place to ensure quality is represented in customer interactions? While Net Promoter Scores are a great way to have oversight on customer relations, there are informal measures that you can take too. Pick a random customer and give her a call. Ask her what you're doing well and where you can improve. Or visit your sites and observe customer interactions. A 30-minute investment can often tell you all you need to know about where opportunities for improvement exist.

When clients receive poor service, how will I know about it? Do your most important clients know there's recourse if they experience less-than-best service? Are they aware that they can always escalate their challenges to you? While you may delegate the day-to-day interactions with your top clients to a team member, it's always your responsibility to ensure that your most important clients are happy with the service they are experiencing and, if there's a problem, that they know you're only a phone call away.

How can we differentiate our service so it's better than good? Poor customer service prevention will lead you to good customer service. But how do you deliver legendary service to strengthen the bond between you and your clients? It starts with cultivating the mindset among your team members, and then helping them develop the skills they need to be empowered. Many businesses are investing in leadership training for front-line employees because they recognize that these "soft skills" deliver hard results. After all, leadership isn't a job title; it's a behavior, and when everyone demonstrates it, trust and commitment are natural byproducts.

As managers, we're responsible for so many things: budgets, staffing, processes, outcomes, revenue goals, and the list goes on. In the busyness of our days, let's not overlook the critical importance of customer service. It's within this arena that our business reputation is made.

Angie Morgan is a former Marine Corps captain and cofounder of Lead Star, a leadership development consulting firm. She is also the coauthor of Leading from the Front: No-Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women.

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