Where does customer service resides?

Below is the abridged text of what I wrote about a customer service seminar I attended a few months ago in the office.

We normally hear customer service from every corner—banks, telecommunication companies, call centers, restaurants, and other service-oriented industries. But what is it exactly? Is it something that is so common a term that we ended up defining it in various ways? But whatever the case, it has the two most important words: customer and service.

 

I got the chance to be part of a customer service seminar last Saturday, Aug 23, 2008. This is the first time that I was part of a customer service seminar. And because this is just a seminar (as opposed to training), the activity is less rigid, less hands-on. But the whole day seminar is full of fun because most of the time, the exercises are dealt with games and small group interaction. The facilitators have done its research well because there have been studies to prove that in order for seminars to be effective, infuse interaction and participation. That way, the audience will feel engaged and definitely not bored.

 

The seminar speaks of five major tenets which is vital in customer service.

1.)    Responsiveness.

2.)    Reliability.

3.)    Tangibles.

4.)    Assurance.

5.)    Empathy.

 

Responsiveness refers to the measurable qualities like time, accessibility (communication), after sales service. How responsive are we when addressing clients needs. Customer service does not end right after they purchase the first time (in our case, machine) because the barometer of how responsive we are to their needs is viewed in the after sales such as consumables ordering, service requests, and problems that will arise during the course of the partnership. It is important to attend to the customer’s need in the fastest possible time because if you don’t, they have the option to look for other suppliers.

 

Reliability measures how your client views you as a company, in terms of truthful communication based on the commitments you provide to them. If you say the unavailable toner will be available by Friday, do you make sure that it becomes available by Friday or earlier? Commitment to client is crucial because it creates an impression on them as to how you do business. If we keep on breaking our commitment and promises, then it creates a notion of unreliability. This way, customers will do away from you and look for someone else who can deliver what they need.

 

Tangibles are things that can be seen and touched. These refers to the uniforms you wear (is it clean? Decent? Pleasing?), tools (are they complete? Are they clean?), logistics (how does your delivery vans and motorcycles look like? Does your delivery crew have protective gears such as raincoats when it rains?) which clients see. It creates an image and branding, such that even if the client does not tell it to you, they can see how you do business just by seeing your appearance and the things that represents your company.

 

Assurance is connected with feedback mechanism. Not just feedback per se but rather constant feedback in times where there is something to be resolved. For example, a spare part is currently out of stock but it is badly needed by your client. What will you do? In cases like this, you need to assure your client that you are doing all possibilities to serve the requirement in due time. More so, alternative solution like outsourcing of s/p from an existing machine should be considered. You have to constantly in contact with the client so they can feel your concern. Sometimes, you have to tell the truth (like out of stock problem) but it doesn’t stop there. Lay out your options and see to it that your client is given with feedback about it so that they will know that something is being done with their problem and it is being addressed. The worst that you can tell your client is not tell them at all, as if they are in the dark. In cases like this, they would feel that they are not important to you. We don’t like that to happen.

 

Empathy is putting your self in your client’s situation. When the machine is down, and you (as a supplier) cannot provide the client with the desired spare parts because it is currently not available? The client will have no income for the days where the machine is not running. Imagine your self in their shoes; it is just not acceptable.

 

Moreover, the seminar tackles about how to go through situations or problems. The acronym is ACCO, which means;

 

  1. Assess the situation. Know and identify the what, when, where, who, why.
  2. Consider. What are the options available? This also includes likes, needs, wants and value of the customer.
  3. Choose. Once the options are identified, choose the best that will address the problem or situation. Choosing also includes acceptance—that part where you need to tell the truth from your client and not do “sugarcoating”. Admit mistakes and learn from it. Client will understand; in fact, it will lessen his/her anger once you apologize and admit the mistakes and shortcomings. But make sure that you are doing something, because it doesn’t stop from the apology.
  4. Own. Take the initiative when you feel that the problem is not being acted upon by your immediate superior or manager. Identify and talk to the concerned parties in your department or office as to why the problem is not being addressed to or acted upon. Partake in the endeavor and own it. Do not ignore the situation just because other process owners are not doing its role in the loop.

 

The one day course, as I have said, do not teach you the do’s and don’t’s of customer service. Albeit, it delves into your self. In fact, it was aptly titled My Career, My Business. Customer service is not simply about customers and your company, it is also you. You being the mirror or representative of the organization you work in.

 

I love the idea that the focus is not towards your customer but rather on each and everyone (which basically comprises the organization). The facilitator lets you delve into the core of the self. It is a sort of reflection into your capacity as an individual; that you have the inner power that can change the status quo into your advantage.

 

When you want something to be in your favor, change from within. Change your mindset. Do not think of negative thoughts, prejudices, biases, because these can influence your judgments towards the kind of work/decisions that you do.

 

The tool on problem solving (ACCO) is useful in terms of making day to day decisions regarding work, most especially in my department where complaints are encountered in many ways than one. It should also be noted that when an exception arise, it has to be reported right away so that solutions can be had even before it becomes a complaint. Based on experience, there have been cases where agents in my department do not report cases of exceptional nature like concerns from clients or queries that need to be resolve. The case of non-compliance on their part is partly because they think they can resolve the case from their end, but later realized that it is beyond their control.

 

Constant communication between internal process owners should be in placed. And not just plain talking and exchanging pleasantries, but more of asking the right questions and seeking the right answers. When a colleague said that the available toners will arrive by next week, do not take it as it is. Rather, consider other options like shipback from a nearby branch of the same item because time is of the essence. The kind of urgency (remember that we have to put our self in the shoes of the customer) at our level should be there always.

 

Another good point that was mentioned during the course is about tangibles. The appearance of the employees when he/she do business with a client mirrors that of the company. Therefore, employees—especially those going out in field and interacts with client—are expected to be dressed properly, behave courteously, and act professionally. These small things speak a lot about how we do business.

 

You know I find it funny because we aspire to be of greater help to our customers, pleasing them all the time, and making sure that they are well taken cared of. But because of this grandstanding mindset that we end up neglecting the small things (tangibles) that matters most to our clients. Summing up all these small gestures might prove effective in the long run. These are the things that stick to clients mind.

 

The challenge now is how to practice what was learned from the course. Definitely, the result will not happen overnight. Nor will it happen in a month’s time. The barometer if the course point is embraced or not is dependent on each attendee. Each of them now has the responsibility to commit to what they pledge at the end of the course.

 

When employees changed their mindset (for the good), slowly but surely, then it will reflect in the statistics: sales performance (machines, consumables) increases, clients are coming, less/minimal complaints. The ball is with us; not the company.

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