Nothing much happened on the 9th August 1993. The Edinburgh festival was just getting under way for another year and people in flip flops and shorts wandered the sunny streets of Edinburgh looking for their next laugh. Had they been less hungover they might have noticed and had a wry smile at the young man, looking exceptionally uncomfortable in a paisley patterned tie and his first suit with his shiny briefcase walking nervously to his first real day in his first real job.
That nervous, starched, trussed up newbie, obviously, was me. And, to be honest, nothing much remarkable did happen that day. But from that day and over the course of the next 20 years I became passionate about customers and how important they are to companies. And these are the 15 things about customer service I know now that I wish I knew then.
- It is ALL about the vision. As a leader I can’t be everywhere. The vision is the gathering point, the guiding light and the acid test for my business. Once the vision is painted it gives everyone in the organisation a reference point to always do the RIGHT thing. So it had better be engaging, inspiring and clear.
- A successful vision is not born in a Boardroom. The people that REALLY know customers speak to them every day and the people who sit in the Boardroom usually don’t. The fresh perspective that my team brings to the vision is almost as powerful as the buy-in that is won by including them - share the fun, responsibility and ownership of building an inspiring vision!
- It is all about consistency. Hold on! How can it be all about the vision AND all about the consistency?? The only way that our vision will succeed is if we (and most especially I) apply it consistently – in the way I lead, the way I recruit, the way I empower and the way I reward performance. If I can’t behave in a manner that is consistent with our vision then why should anyone else believe in it?
- Success requires cool heads. Everyone wants to achieve success fast but often success comes from tiny, incremental steps. And tiny steps take time. If we have faith that we have the right vision (see it IS all about the vision) then I should not react to any bumps in the short-term road unless they threaten to derail our long term vision.
- Engaged people are more likely to make customers happy. A great customer experience is grounded in people talking to people. If someone is aggrieved, tired, over-worked, feeling micro-managed or in the wrong role then they will not give my customers the time, empathy, and service that we desire.
- If I treat my team like children they will disengage. THEREFORE, I have learned that managing people by average handling time or productivity, encouraging multi-tasking for efficiency benefits, and trying to control conversations with scripts and prescriptive rule books are all dumbass things to do if I want to offer a great customer experience that customers will talk about.
- Rules make for lazy leadership and a lack of ownership will be the consequence. How often have you heard – that’s not my job, I’m not authorised to do that, that’s against our policy, I will need to escalate that to my supervisor? These are not messages that you want to hear as a customer, the heart sinks and you know the experience is just going to be.......difficult.
- There are only two rules needed to have a successful customer service operation. Rule #1 – have a clear vision that everyone buys into; Rule #2 – recruit well against that vision and empower those great recruits to do their job without bureaucratic
- Customers are all about the emotion. We might have the best product, or the cheapest price and the slickest processes. But if a competitor makes them feel better about buying something from them then we are unlikely to ever see them again. And the social pain of a bad experience with a company will be remembered long after the details of the experience have passed – my company will always be under a cloud in their mind.
- If customer experience isn’t our competitive advantage we had better be bloody good at whatever is. If we are cheap, someone can be cheaper; if we are all about content, someone can trump my content and so on. But if I focus on giving customers a great experience then they will be more emotionally invested in my brand. Managing by average handling time, cost per transaction, and additional upsells are all, therefore, tactics that will add no long term value to my business.
- The vast majority of customers don't want to be difficult or scam money from us. But how often are policies and procedures designed for the one percent. Imagine that all cars were limited to 30mph because some drivers speed – yup, it simply defies logic and, at a stroke, limits the possibility to be really great. I need to build great teams and empower them to do the RIGHT thing by my customers.
- Some customers really are not worth keeping. If a customer abuses my team, for whatever reason, then I will politely recommend another supplier for them. An engaged team needs to feel that they are backed, and there can never, ever be an excuse for abuse.
- New toys don’t make service better. We can introduce online service, web chat, service through social media, mobile apps and all the other whizzy stuff – but if we don’t do the basics we are just kidding ourselves. Customers often shift channels out of frustration with their existing channel, less so by choice. If the service channels aren’t linked up to ensure timely, personal and effective service then the rush to have a presence “in the new toy” is a waste of time and an unnecessary distraction.
- A customer complaint is a gift. I might be smarter or better informed or righter than my customer but that is all irrelevant if a customer is moved to complain. Despite my smartness or rightness something hasn't worked for the customer - I need to engage the customer, learn, improve and move on.
- And I’ll emphasis this one last time - as a leader there is no way I can be everywhere. If I have recruited right and created the right culture - why don’t I just trust the great people that I have recruited to do the job I have recruited them for? And guess what – they really know how to do the RIGHT thing and they have some great ideas!
There have been some long and painful journeys to come to these realisations and you can’t replace that experience.
What do you know now that you wish you knew on your first day at work? I would love to hear in the comments – there is probably another whole article from them!