Your customer service stinks! According to an extensive study by the DiJulius Group, 41% of you are guilty of the “stink” declaration. Another 38% of you are only rated as “average” in customer service, 18% are rated as “above average” and a measly 3% are acclaimed as exceptional.
But, that’s not the worst part. The fact that so many business leaders live in denial concerning their customer service is what’s atrocious. Here’s proof: a similar study by Bain & Company found that 80% of the companies surveyed believed the service they provided was superior. In other words, the majority of the companies who believe they’re God’s gift to the customer but aren’t rated in the “exceptional” or “above average” categories have no chance of improving the customer experience. In fact, they’re not even trying because they believe they’re superior.
“Hogwash” you say, “We’re not that bad.” Maybe. Perhaps you are in the 21% rated as above average or exceptional. But ultimately, your opinion in this regard doesn’t matter. The customer is right and you’re wrong because their perception is reality. Period. End of story. As Service Management Group executive Jack Mackey asserted, “You can say what you want about who you are, but people believe what they experience.”
Let me suggest two of the many reasons why customer service is declared lousy in so many companies, and then present five strategies to improve it.
Low service aptitude. We tell front line employees, who often spend the most time with customers, that we want them to give customers world class service. But how many of your front-liners have ever experienced world class service? If they don’t know what it looks like, how can you expect them to deliver it?
What percentage of the average dealership’s front line employees have ever flown first class on Singapore Airlines, dined at Le Cirque, spent a spa day at the Four Seasons, lodged at the Hotel Bel Air, purchased their engagement ring at Tiffany’s, or use an American Express Black Card service to arrange for show tickets or limo rides? If their experiences are limited to Red Roof Inns and dinner at Chili’s, they can’t possibly know what world class service is; unless you define these standards and then train them how to deliver. Incidentally, the fact that they have limited world class service experiences is not their fault, and nor am I saying that you cannot receive enjoy a great experience in budget-to-mid-priced establishments. But “run of the mill” versus “league of their own” is most likely to be their experiences in said establishments. Common sense tells us that your employees cannot be expected to export to your customers what they’ve never enjoyed or been trained how to do.
It’s also entirely possible to receive lousy service from any of the superior entities I mentioned, but even this can be a plus as one learns how to handle mishaps productively from world class companies.
Derelict people skills. The men and women I sold cars with had strong people skills but were weak with technology. Today, the opposite is true. One reason is because it is estimated that we have 1/20th the human interactions we did just twenty years ago. From automated phone systems where you don’t speak with people, to check-out kiosks at grocery stores, to check-in kiosks for airlines, to using Netflix versus going into a Blockbuster, or Amazon.com versus visiting Barnes & Noble, to breaking up with your girlfriend via text message, to using email rather than phone calls, we interact with other human beings at a fraction of what we used to. This, in itself, is a reflection of how horrible customer service has gotten — many people would rather push buttons and deal with mindless machines than endure the indifference and incompetence demonstrated by so many humans on the job.
Without great people skills employees don’t listen to customers; they give quick and efficient, rather than effective answers to questions, and abruptly “get to the bottom line” before they build rapport. They are easily distracted during customer interactions and lack the warmth that comes only when one is comfortable and proficient at conducting meaningful dialogue.
Following are five steps you can take to move your customer service from “outhouse to penthouse.” The most exciting aspect of these strategies is that they are all basic and within the reach of any company.
1. Define what “world class” customer service is. This includes written guidelines and expectations. Each department should have specific standards to fit their role with the customer, and the dealership overall should have across-the-board and non-negotiable practices that apply throughout. Without clear guidelines and expectations you’ll never be able to hold people accountable for the behaviors you desire.
2. Train employees in soft skills. Invest in resources that teach listening skills, as well as those rich in verbiage for dealing with customer issues/problems. There are seminars that teach these skills and techniques. I’ll teach our own, Competitive Edge through Customer Service! workshop this fall. You can’t expect employees to rise to the level of your customer service expectations. Rather, they will fall to the level of their training in this area.
3. Hire smarter and slower. Role-play potential customer service scenarios during an interview with a candidate and see how they respond. Determine what type of service aptitude they have by delving into their life experiences.
4. Have a high regard for a customer’s time. Find ways to improve the speed and efficiency at every customer touch-point: email responses, phone directory systems, F&I, completing paperwork, delivery, check out, and all other time-sensitive processes.
5. Teach and empower employees to handle customer problems quickly and at the lowest possible level. The longer it takes to resolve a customer problem, the more it costs you. Studies show that customers with problems solved quickly are more loyal than customers with no problems at all!
There are numerous other strategies for moving past blending in with others in your industry to distinguishing yourself as best in class in your area. Improving customer service is a customer acquisition and retention tool. It is also a referral-generating machine. It moves you away from commodity status and makes you valuable enough for people to pay more to do business with you.
Customer service improvement exercise: Do this department-by-department first, and then convene the department heads to share their findings. Follow these three steps:
A. List every touch point you have with a customer: emails, phone calls, letters, sales and finance processes, customer problems, service appointments, customer restrooms, etc.
B. Ask, “If we weren’t currently doing X the way we are now, and started all over again with the goal of creating a great customer experience, would we choose to do it this way?”
C. If the answer is “No,” then improve it immediately.