“There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” -Audre Lorde
Being successful in business is a challenging experience. The pace is fast, you can be hit from all angles, and anything can happen on any given day. In almost every instance you are surrounded by competitors. All you want to do is continue to move forward and provide the service or product that your business offers in a productive and profitable way. What is it that differentiates your business from every other company out in the world offering a similar product or service? Maybe your branding is more skillful. Perhaps you use technology in a more impactful way. It’s possible you even execute better than competitors. But in almost every business, the differentiating factor truly is the customer service you provide to your clients. If your business operates with customer service as a priority, it is most likely standing out and hopefully moving forward in a positive way.
Of course everyone preaches that they are customer driven. It would be foolish for a business not to say such a thing if they hope to continue to operate successfully. But what does customer driven really translate to? What does it mean?
The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them — preferably in unexpected and helpful ways. – Richard Branson
Customer service, by definition, is the provision of service to customers before, during, and after a purchase. It is also how a product is delivered to a customer. During the many points of customer contact your company may have, it is important to evaluate performance. Is your product (or service) accessible? Is it easy to gain access? Is it cost-effective/provide value? Does it meet (or hopefully exceed) the customer’s expectations for that product or service?
Some people believe that advertising is the best way to promote their business. Although advertising is important, it’s difficult to rise above the noise of everything bombarding the average person on any given day. Consumers are consistently hit with one advertisement after another, and often nothing ends up standing out as a result. In this era of social media dominance, everyone has the opportunity to gain exposure. But exposure doesn’t guarantee sales. If the points of contact with a customer are successful at each phase of the sales cycle, the customer will remember the solution your company provided but more importantly, how you made them feel. How they feel is memorable.
I heard a story recently about someone who purchased a gift for a child at a big box retailer online. It wasn’t a large purchase. It was actually a ceramic bank shaped like a popular character that children like. The shipment arrived and the bank was shattered. When the box was opened, the purchaser noticed that there was no packaging or protective wrapping in the box. The person who packed it literally put the bank in the box and taped it shut. Customer service for the retailer was called and the customer was assured this would not happen again. She was told a replacement item would be sent to her. Again the item arrived without any packaging material and again, it was shattered. Customer service offered a credit which was accepted. But ultimately the gift was not purchased and it was a disappointment. Although the correct action for the customer was taken, the desired result was not achieved and the customer wasn’t happy. Through each point of contact with the customer the company failed. Money can be returned but how someone feels is what they will remember about their interaction with a company.
Customer touch points vary from business to business but generally they are divided into BEFORE PURCHASE, DURING PURCHASE and AFTER PURCHASE. Some examples of BEFORE PURCHASE touch points are social media, ratings, reviews, testimonials, word of mouth, community involvement, advertising, marketing, and public relations. Examples of DURING PURCHASE touch points are store/office, website, catalog, staff/sales team, and phone system. Examples of AFTER PURCHASE are billing, transaction emails, online help centers, follow-ups, and thank you cards. How a company or small business chooses to execute on the many client touch points can make the difference between positive growth or falling flat in the sales arena.
Our growth at Radwell International has been very positive for many years. Out of curiosity, I spoke with some of the key players in Customer Service because I know that service very much contributes to growth. Interestingly enough, there is a common theme and thought process that permeates Radwell customer service and really underlines why the company has grown at the rate it has. Everyone I spoke to agreed that the best part of their job is being able to speak directly to customers and finding a win-win solution for issues. A lot of customer service professionals in other companies say that but these folks actually mean it. It isn’t surprising that each member of the customer service team that I spoke with all responded consistently when asked questions about how they approached the opportunities to impact customers on a regular basis. I think it’s because they are really utilizing the principles they believe in on a daily basis.
After many conversations, I thought it would be informative to share some key points of customer service insight from some of the Radwell International Customer Service Team members.
- Customer service in business should be immediate. It needs immediate action and issues need to be handled as they occur. No delays are allowed. Immediacy helps differentiate service for customers.
- Proactive customer service is very much a part of daily routine for Radwell International. A representative contacts customers proactively every 60 days to validate that all is well. If there are any concerns, the issue is immediately escalated to upper management.
- The most important thing when handling customer complaints is putting oneself in the customer’s shoes.
- Seek to understand how mistakes have impacted customers so a better solution can be found.
- All complaints are addressed and fixed no matter how small. It keeps customers coming back because they know that even if there are problems, Radwell International will stand behind what they do.
- As Radwell International has grown the customer service team needed to grow quickly as well to catch up and then stay ahead. Customer service will continue to expand as the company continues to grow. Keeping the team properly staffed to handle the growth is important to keeping customer service operating successfully.
- Servicing customers properly create repeat business and that continues to fuel growth.
- Having a “no worries” approach to addressing issues immediately is important with no questions asked.
- Handling each customer with special attention and a hands-on approach makes them feel like valued customers and not just numbers.
- Dividing customer service departments into groups helps get issues and concerns specifically addressed as quickly as possible.
- Learning from problems that arise is a big opportunity for future growth. Any issue is a potential growth and learning experience.
- Growing pains can make a company stronger if used productively.
- Managing quality and consistency across many locations can be a challenge as a business grows. Creating best practices and validating that practices are consistent across the board in each location is helping combat this situation.
- Being able to connect directly with customers is something each customer service team member values. In fact, more than one person stated direct customer interactions as a privilege and the best part of their job working in customer service.
There are probably a few “takeaways” in the above bullet points for any type of business. Although the concepts are simple, execution can make or break a business in terms of the customer experience. Best practices and training can help promote positive experiences for a customer. But most importantly, how a customer feels from their interaction with a business is truly the best measurement of how a business team is executing. You can change any experience at the points of contact throughout the customer experience but how a customer feels at the conclusion of the business interaction can be the difference between customer apathy and incredible growth.
Contributors-Radwell International Customer Service (Teresa Kissel, John Chwastyk, Mark Morace)