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Keeping Service in Customer Service

June 20, 2000
Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Service, Featured Article
Customers remember two things -- how they are treated when they walk into a store or call a company, and how quickly and accurately their problems are resolved. After another frustrating week of long lines, lost orders and bad attitude, I decided to check in with an expert, Paula Taylor, president of The Taylor Group, in Oakland, CA who specializes in customer service issues.

  1. Paula, is it just me or is service really getting worse by the minute?
  1. It isn't just you, Odette. Customer service is sinking like a stone in a river. Last week a salesperson at Radio Shack conducted an entire transaction from finding my item, to ringing it up, to handing me my bag without saying one single word to me -- not even thank you.

In our seminars we split the group in half and ask one half to relate positive service experiences and the other to talk about negative experiences. There have been times when no one in the room can recall having a single positive service experience. This is anecdotal, of course, but it reflects clearly what's really happening out there.

The most recent update of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) reported that customer satisfaction has declined in almost every industry. Taylor explained that although customer service is said to be one of businesses' highest priorities, so is everything else. All the competing priorities need resources. The human interaction side of customer service which is what we're talking about here, is still at the bottom of the list.


  1. I know it's not that hard to give good service. Why don't we get it?
  2. Executives and business owners don't seem to understand three things. First, how bad the service is in their own business. Second, how relatively inexpensive providing basic service is compared to the payback. Technology is expensive, yes, but the basics are inexpensive. And finally, they don't realize the extent to which bad service drives business away and good service attracts customers.

Taylor suggests five things that managers and business owners can do immediately that will ultimately result in improving service to the customer.

1. Be your own customer. This is a must. Shop in your stores; eat in your restaurant; call your 800 number; order your own products. Try to get something returned, explained or repaired. If you are easily recognized send in a "mystery shopper" -- a friend or relative will do, but find out how it feels to be a customer of your organization. Be objective in your assessment. Would you buy from your business again? This information will help you establish a baseline so you'll know which aspects of your service need improvement.

2. Set standards so customers experience consistency. Don't make your employees guess at what you mean when you say, "Give good service." Set standards that are clear and measurable yet allow for flexibility, latitude and individual personalities. Involve employees in establishing the service standards. Not only will their input improve the quality of the standards -- they will probably set them higher than you would if you wrote them yourself -- but employees will be more committed to them because they were included.

3. Hold people accountable. Standards serve no purpose unless people are held accountable for meeting them. Typically this means some method of monitoring, measuring or observing. Use positive measurements, such as the number of times things were done correctly rather than counting the number of errors. When giving feedback use positive language. You'll set the right tone and find employees more receptive. Be sure, however, to be very clear as to which areas need improvement. Use accountability as a positive developmental experience with the goal of improving individual and group performance rather a punitive one and you'll find employees anxious for feedback.

4. Provide the tools to do the job. Employees must be trained if you expect them to provide excellent service. Don't take the smallest things for granted -- many people today aren't even familiar with the words please and thank-you. Whether you choose a formal classroom setting, on-the-job training or brief tailgate meetings, give every employee the opportunity to meet the service standards. Set an example. Be sure what you say and do exceeds the service standards.

5. Create a company of thieves. Steal good ideas anywhere you can. Check out how your competitors are doing things. Give employees a little notebook and ask them to record what they see or hear. Even unrelated businesses can give you ideas you can use or modify to improve your own service. You can discuss these ideas in group meetings, give prizes for ideas that are used and make improvements based on employee suggestions. You don't have to be first - you just have to be best.


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