Debunking false beliefs about customer service

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John Tschohl writes about customer service on SmallBusinessExecutive.

John Tschohl discusses how to improve customer service.

By John Tschohl

Guest columnist

If I were to ask CEOs to define customer service, I would guess most would say: Customer service is providing the customer with fast, accurate and courteous service. While those are elements, customer service involves so much more. Customer service is whatever the customer thinks it is. That includes quality products, convenience, competitive prices, timely responses, reliability, a personal touch and knowledgeable employees. Customer service means doing what you say you will do, and doing it when, if not before, you say you will do it. It is operating on the belief that no transaction is complete unless the service customers receive is sufficient to motivate them to return.

Most CEOs and other executives don’t fully understand customer service and its huge impact on sales and profits for their organizations. They don’t understand what they should (and shouldn’t) do to provide the best possible service to their customers. In fact, many of them have false beliefs when it comes to customer service. Here are three myths that hamper organizations as they strive to provide exceptional customer service to attract and retain customers:

Myth No. 1: Adding employees improves customer service. You can add all the people you want, but more doesn’t necessarily equal better. If you have 50 employees and add 50 more, all you’ve done is double your workforce. But if you have 50 employees focused on customer service who are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and have positive attitudes, you will have a winning team. If you train those employees in the art of customer service and give them the tools they need to take care of your customers, then sales and profits will skyrocket.

Myth No. 2: The more you pay employees, the more committed they will be to customer service. I’ve addressed this myth for more than three decades to clients throughout the world, stressing that money is not a motivator. If you doubled every employee’s salary tomorrow, it would not necessarily improve customer service. If you have employees who do not provide good service, who are not committed to taking care of your customers, what you pay them will not change the way they operate.

What will motivate employees to provide better customer service? Recognition. There is no stronger motivator than positive reinforcement and public praise. Think of it this way: If you are a parent trying to teach your young child to put away his toys at the end of the day, what do you think will be the stronger motivator—a dime each time he does so or constant praise, especially in front of fam

ily and friends? If you recognize the efforts of employees who go above and beyond to take care of customers, they will continue to improve the service they provide. A $200 bonus would be gone in a day or two, but a word of praise will live on indefinitely. Recognition is the most powerful motivational tool you have — use it.

Myth No. 3: Your employees are empowered. This is a delusion for most managers and executives. Empowerment means that your employees have the authority to do whatever it takes to immediately solve a customer’s problem to the satisfaction of the customer, not the organization. To empower your employees, train them on the skills they need to provide exceptional service. Don’t handcuff your employees with cumbersome policies and procedures. Give them the authority to bend and break the rules to serve your customers.

It takes a miracle to get employees to make empowered decisions because they think they will be fired if they make a mistake. Let them know that it’s OK to make a mistake in the process of providing exceptional customer service. Without empowered employees, you will never be a service leader.

Don’t underestimate the power of customer service. Exceptional service builds loyalty, which in turn builds profits.

John Tschohl is founder and president of Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis. He has written several books on customer service and has developed more than 26 customer-service training programs that have been distributed throughout the world. Tschohl’s monthly strategic newsletter is available online at www.customer-service.com.

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