Dato Timothy Ong pointed out, at the recent Asia Inc Forum, an important note about Customer Service: that the real test to a Great Customer Service culture is how the company handles the customer when a problem arises.
The limited time allocated for the presentation prohibited me from addressing his remark on stage. (Truth was, it was such a deep and thoughtful statement that it took me a few days to process. Hence, this blog.)
Dear Dato Timothy Ong,
My short response to you on this issue will be: If a company has a steadfast commitment to Customer Service excellence, it is unlikely it would face too many ‘crisis situations’ of customer complaints.
That said, it seems that the only things constant today are the unpredictable. Hence, my long response below:
- React Fast
- To what degree are the front line staff given the authority to rectify a problem? Tim Ferris, the author of 4 Hour Work Week has a system in place in his company, where his staff can make up to a $200 decision without having to seek permission from the next level supervisory staff.
- Of course at the end of the day, they would need to be able to justify their action against the guidelines set by the company.
- When a problem can be fixed at the front line fast, the pain will be reduced to a minimum. Less frustration for the customer, less agony for the staff, every body wins!
- What is your strategy to anticipate any possible scenarios that may occur? How do you minimize or eliminate the damage before it happens?
- One common problem in the retail shoe industry is the packing of the wrong pair of shoes for the customer to bring home. Simple mistake, serious repercussion! Not only is this bad customer service, it is also a lose-lose situation, because retailers are left with another (wrong) side of the shoe in stock, which they can’t sell.
- The situation could have been easily avoided, if there was a prominent sign at the cash register counter reminding both the customers and the attendee to check twice before packing!
- Plan B
- What happens when the problem is one that you know will surface regardless of how much you plan? For example, when your restaurant is having a full house, the delivery of food to the table will be inevitably slow.
- The long-term solution may be to hire more chefs if it is a recurring issue (a happy problem to address).
- The immediate solution would probably be: Free garlic bread, drinks and prawn cracker while they wait?
- Follow Through
- Just one final step that would differentiate you from being a Good operator to becoming a Great one, after you’ve resolved the issue. Follow through to make sure your customers are happy! Pierre Imhof, the GM of Baiduri Bank recently told me how he often caught the customer by surprise (often apologetic about their complains) when he occasionally picked up the phone to follow through with a customer’s complaint.
- Send your unhappy customers a card (hand written & personally signed), call them up or visit the customer if you have to. Do this, and you would secure your customer for life.
- Show Empathy
- Sometimes you can do all the above correctly, but a situation arises above your ’empowerment-strategy’ to handle. Nothing annoys a customer more than a staff who shows indifference because the situation is beyond their duty (I.e not-my-department-instances).
- Stand on the customer’s side. Listen. Genuinely feel for their situation. Simple, may be, but probably the most powerful advice I can give on this subject.
There will never be a one-size-fits-all strategy, as every problem is unique. But I hope the above common sense principles serve as a reminder that there is more we can do than we anticipated.
Thank you, and a very Happy Birthday to a great mentor and a personal role model.