The essence of customer service

Whilst there are many incredible new methods out there to increase customer engagement – such as, a higher focus on self-service, video based chats, and enabled callbacks, many still believe initiatives like these will work better if organisations and their employees brought Back the ‘humanness’ into engaging and serving their customers. Research indicates that customers still want to be treated as individuals and prefer to experience a personalised service in combination with technology enabled interaction.

At CONTRACT, we believe customer service is not only a list of policies and standards that need to be fulfilled to serve the customer, it is also about a level of behavior and attitude when engaging with another human being.

At a time when organisations need to be agile and quick to respond to disruptive practices from their competitors, it is still crucial to remember the fundamental rules of ‘being human’ with everyone, all the time. To this end, we have strong beliefs about customer service and engagement that should be considered when implementing a culture of excellence in customer service.

We believe that customer service starts internally. We start by looking at the following:

  • How does the organisation treat employees?
  • How do employees treat each other?
  • Do employees feel ‘at home’ in the company they work for?
  • Do they enjoy interacting and working with their colleagues? If they do, they have the basis for engaging with customers in positive ways.

Excellent customer service relates to both intra-personal and inter-personal elements. The intra-personal element includes the thoughts and feelings of an individual about themselves, and the resulting thoughts and feelings of that individual about others. The inter-personal part is about what external behaviors, words and actions the person shows when interacting with another person.

Customer service has never been easy and many still agree that certain individuals have a natural flair for engaging and ‘serving’ others, whilst others don’t. What makes it so difficult is the discipline to deliver excellent service consistently. Whether that is trying to fulfil customer requests, adhering to policies, delivering fast and efficient service, and at the same time engaging with the customer in front of you as though they are all that matters; in stressful times, under difficult circumstances or simply when you don’t feel like it.

Many organisations also seem to have prioritised technological solutions and made other changes to keep pace with competitors rather than focussing on what customers really need or want. Whilst technology might have changed the way customers behave, it has not changed the values that people hold in high regard. As a matter of fact, certain values like, trust, reliability and after sales service have moved up the priority list (alarmingly 62% of global consumers have stopped doing business with a brand or organisation due to a poor customer service experience, according to a 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report).

Our focus is to assist organisations in creating a customer service culture where all levels of the business are involved. The responsibility doesn’t only lie with customer facing employees – it starts with executives driving a culture that is customer centric, and includes everyone in the organisation, even back-office teams, right through to the customer.

So let’s recap: Over and above the array of engagement tools born out of the technology age, delivering excellent customer service depends heavily on understanding and practicing the fundamental attributes that drive winning human interaction. This is an inside-out process; starts with how people treat themselves, how they treat each other as colleagues and finally the customer.

  • Understanding that internal customers are as important as external customers;
  • Communicating well across levels and departments and teams;
  • Having a sense of shared achievement;
  • Breaking down silos and working more collaboratively;
  • Understanding one’s own role and expectations in the value chain;
  • Feeling comfortable enough to speak openly about expectations and deliverables;
  • Having tough conversations with peers when things are not running smoothly and need fixing;
  • Holding each other accountable.

Here are a few things that you can implement today:

  • Focus on how your managers are leading their teams. Are they equipped with the right tools, and do they lead in a way that is motivating and creating a positive atmosphere in their teams?
  • Focus on where great customer service is given. Acknowledge, praise, share success stories across the organisation… positive examples usually lead to more positive examples!
  • Focus on what can be done to improve customer service at an organisational level, and involve your teams in this, as they are closer to the action than senior management they often have better ideas. Choose easy-to-implement, high impact actions that have a direct positive effect on customer service.
  • Focus on your customer as a whole. When engaging with them, ‘speak’ to their rational, explicit needs as well as their ‘below-the-surface’ emotional needs and expectations. Engage with them as a human being and you will ‘touch’ them in a very different way.

For more information, contact: Helene Smuts helene.smuts@contract-sa.co.za, or visit www.contract-sa.co.za.