One of the well-known ingredients for organisational success is the ability to excel at meeting customers’ needs. Yet all too often organisations’ attempts at customer service leave their customers dissatisfied. Why is this?
My reflections on the poor service that I have noticed in recent times has led me to believe that one of the key causes of the negative customer experiences is the failure of organisations to recognise the intrinsic needs that their customers have that are not part of their service offering. These include:
The need to fit their interaction with your organisation into their busy schedule.
- All too often the customer is left having to change their schedule to fit their suppliers’. For example automated systems telling customers to hang up and the organisation will call them when they get through the queue. This might save the supplier some time and money but does nothing to help the customer who needs to make contact in a lunch break, when they are in private, or when they are with someone else who also needs to be on the call; and
- Customer service departments that offer little more than a gatekeeper service for the people who can help. How frustrating it is for a customer to have to explain their reason for calling to more than one person as their call is transferred. Even more of frustrating is when the person empowered to assist is not able or does not want to give out their contact details. The customer is left calling the gatekeeper again the next time they need assistance.
In these days where there is a proliferation of time management principles where we are encouraged to take control of every minute of every day to maximise personal efficiency, it is unwise to lose sight of the fact that, without your customers, you might not need to manage your time at all.
The need to be told the truth.
Even if the facts are unpalatable, most people would prefer to hear the truth so that they can work with the situation as it stands. You might think you are being truthful but are you guilty of doing the following?
- Selling your customer a solution that you know will not meet their needs in full while omitting to advise them of the shortfalls in your proposal. It might be that your competitors cannot meet their needs either, but your customer deserves the courtesy of being told that they are not getting everything they want.
- Telling your customer that you understand their problem or that their call is important to you when there is nothing that your organisation is doing to help alleviate the problem or to make them feel important. These platitudes do little other than to leave customers associating your brand with one that lacks integrity.
- Delaying telling customers that they are not going to get the goods and services they expected as promised; and, subsequently compounding their disappointment by informing them of this by an email or text message that instructs them to search your website for an alternative solution which may or may not exist. This process is unlikely to engender any goodwill from a customer who has made plans based on the assumption that you would keep your earlier promises to deliver and now needs urgent help to rectify the issues that your non-delivery has caused.
Customers will inevitably find out the truth whether they hear it from you or not. Why not be the first one to tell them and use it as a way to build your relationship with them.
The need to be valued as a competent person.
It is quite likely that your customer is not an expert in your field, however there is no call to be condescending to them. If you know your subject matter well you should be able to explain it to others respectfully in a way that they can understand. You might not think you are being patronising, but listen to how you explain things to your customers:
- Are you guilty of slowing your speech down as if talking to a child? Or talking in a loud voice because they are not proficient at the language you speak? Or sighing when they ask a question? Or framing your answers before they have finished their last sentence?; or
- Do you use the word ‘obviously’ in your replies? For most people, if the answer was obvious they would not have asked the question in the first place! By telling them they have missed the ‘obvious’ you are denigrating them by implying that they don’t understand something everyone else does.
- Instead, it is better to approach each conversation with your customers as an opportunity to learn as well as to impart knowledge. Ask them questions about themselves and their organisations and enjoy learning from them as well.
In conclusion I invite you to take some time to think about recent interactions with your customers. Are your attitudes and processes conducive to helping you understand and meet their needs? What changes can you implement to make it easy for customers to contact you, to have your customers view your organisation as one that operates with integrity and to value your customers as people? As Winston Churchill once said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”