Customer Service – Are You Able?

In previous posts (here and here), we have begun to look at customer service and what it means to a business… and what it takes to achieve good (even outstanding) customer service.

So far, we have identified 3 areas that must be addressed.

1. Attitude
2. Ability
3. Structure

Last week we looked at attitude in more depth.

Even if you have a great attitude and desire to please the customer and give him/her great service, you may still come up short. (By the way, when I say “you”, I am also talking about your employees and everyone involved in your business.)

What could cause us to come up short, even when we want to give great customer service?


What do I mean?

Ability is about both the business as a whole as well as the individual employees (just as attitude was.)

A person (company) can have the best attitude in the world, with a desire to really serve the customer, but if he doesn’t have the necessary skills, he will fail. Suppose you are on the computer help desk, but you don’t know the first thing about computers. Even though you really want to help the customer who calls, how helpful will you be? (How would you like to be the customer who got you on the phone? Actually, I’ve come pretty close to this situation calling a help desk… you may have, too. But let’s not go there.)

The necessary skills include people skills, product knowledge, computer skills (unless the business is run totally without computers — and if that’s the case, they will soon be out of business), organizational skills, and financial skills. (It’s true that a business can outsource some of the skills — to a certain degree — but a core level of skills is still necessary within the business if it wants to be a success.)

If you ever have to say to a customer (and mean it) “I’d like to help, but…”, then you are demonstrating that you have the attitude, but not the ability.

Sometimes the inability to help comes from structural reasons rather than personal inability. For instance, when the organization has set things up so that the employee is not given the authority (ability within the job) to satisfy the customer. He may know exactly what needs to be done, exactly how to do it, and want to do it, but doesn’t have the ability because the company won’t allow him to.

I encountered this at my stay at Walt Disney World resort. When I arrived, I discovered that they had assigned me to a room that was pretty much the opposite of what I requested and needed. The desk clerk wanted to help me, but the system wouldn’t let him. He did all that he could but I had to wait a day to get to someone who had the power to correct the situation. We’ll talk more about this aspect in the post on structure’s contribution to customer service.

Leaving structure aside, there are three areas within a person that can affect their ability to perform good customer service.

Those areas are:

  1. Strengths
  2. Training
  3. Personality

You may want to provide good service to your customer, but if your strengths don’t run in the areas that the customer needs, then you won’t prove very useful. The example I used earlier about no computer skills on a help desk is an extreme example of this.

Quite likely, what you will encounter is not a complete lack of skill in a required area, as much as not enough strength in a required area. For instance, I once had an employee that could understand the technical reasons behind a problem and could correct them. However, while he spoke English (just like the customer), he could not speak on their level and left them feeling frustrated, confused, and thinking that the problem could not be fixed. That is not good customer service. (We addressed the issue by having a “bridge” person act as an interpreter between the employee and the customer. This increased customer satisfaction because they understood the situation and that the employee would fix it.)

What strengths are needed for good customer service? It depends on the customer, the product or service, the industry, and the problem. That’s why there are no automatic formulas for good customer service. (Nor are there any automated systems that can provide good customer service in all situations and scenarios… just limited cases.)

Sometimes the impediment is a lack of knowledge (not skill) for a particular case. For instance, you might be computer literate, but never have worked a Point of Sale (POS) cash register. (These are computers with a cash drawer attached.) You might be able to figure it out on your own through trial and error. Or your intuition. But, would you want to be the customer waiting as you fumble through the exploration of the POS register?

Until you are trained on how to use that particular one, you may have all the desire in the world to help the customer, but still be unable to ring up their sale. Not good customer service.

(There may also be an issue with the software being difficult to use… or quirky… but that is also a structural issue.)

I, myself, have lost customers (from the phone line, not from the business) when I was trying to transfer them to another person because I didn’t have a firm enough grasp of the phone system. (Do you wait for the other party to answer before you hang up, or do you hang up after you hear it ring? One system did it one way and another did it the opposite.) After a couple of times of that, I studied out what the proper procedure was and pinned a note over the phone so I could get it right every time.

It is important when trying to improve your customer service that you pay attention to the training issues so that you and your employees know how to address your customers’ issues and find solutions rather than create more problems for them.

If you have a personality that is task driven, impatient, and eager to “do something, even if it’s wrong”, you will have a problem performing some types of customer service. Imagine that personality listening on the phone to a problem from a customer who has difficulty describing what their issue is. He will be so impatient to find the problem and fix it, that he is likely to assume the wrong problem. Which, of course, leads to him trying to implement the wrong solution. Meanwhile the customer on the phone first wants to be heard.

On the other hand, for a customer who knows what the problem is and wants a specific, quick solution, this “take charge” personality type may be just what is needed.

(There is no one personality type that is right for all the possible customer service issues that arise. This is why appropriate diversity in a workforce is beneficial.)

As you can see, excelling at customer service can be hard because there are so many different things that must come together for it to work right. In the next post, we’ll examine how the “system” may help or hinder you customer service.

In the meantime, take a look at your business. Do you have the right people with the right skills in the right places doing the right jobs? If you do, then you have a third of the customer service problem licked. If you don’t, then I encourage you to figure out how to get the right combination so that your customers brag on you.

Have a take on customer service we missed? Share it with us in the comments. (Don’t be shy.)

Need help figuring out what isn’t right… or how to fix it? That’s something that I do really well. Go ahead and contact me and let’s talk about it. Who knows, you might just be the next company that Inc. Magazine spotlights for your excellent customer service.

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