Customer Service

Five years back, I would have been okay with standing in long queues, going up to the counter where the store clerk would ignore you, take your money and give you what you wanted as if he is doing me a big favor and would never have expected a smile, sorry or thank you. But I have experienced customer service since then and understood the importance of it in my profession too. Following are some things that I have learned:-

1.      Attitude 75%, aptitude 25% 

o       Attitude towards work and attitude towards customer is almost the same thing – your customer is your work or vice versa. I have seen bit of both types of people – brilliant technically, but customer not happy at the end of the day or very good communication skills and can establish rapport quickly, but shallow when it comes to knowledge and hence not successful in execution. Both attitude and aptitude are natural things, but could improve by practice too.

2.      Customer is never wrong

o       I have seen people arguing with the customer on why he is wrong or why something is impossible to achieve. Your job should be to tell the customer what is possible within the timeframe and cost and why. Instead of discarding something as impossible, it should be broken up and explained as to why it is not possible, which part maybe possible (the complete thing maybe impossible, but parts of it maybe possible). We need to understand the fundamental objective and find ways to achieve that.

o       Also, it depends on how you tell it. Even if customer is wrong, for all involved the best outcome is customer coming to the right solution through your guidance. We tend to lose focus on the simple thing that we win only when customer wins because of our ego.

3.      Listen first, be responsive, be attentive, be available

o       One example from my experience:- It was comparison between product from a major corporation which is already doing business with us in some other space and another new one which was eager to sell. First proposal from the major player was anchored by just one person who came to the requirements review meeting with printed documents which was sent earlier without even reading it once. He kept saying that everything we asked for is included, but didn’t have enough detail on how those could be accomplished, gave vague answers and for specific questions sent via email there was no follow up. Second group had read every document that was sent, had very specific questions which showed that they had read every sentence and had a clear idea how to accomplish those and the meeting was very productive. It just showed that they cared. They followed up on every question that was sent to them to the very last detail and even anticipated the concerns behind the questions and provided answers for those. I got to know later that their sales process was tuned such a way that they were instructed to listen to the customer first rather than go into a “sell sell sell” mode.

o       Moral of the story is this:- it is not enough that you have a good quality product. You need to listen to the customers, need to be responsive, need to prepare well and show empathy to solve customer’s problem.

o       Respond to the customer queries as soon as you can, be sure to return their voice mails and be around when they need you. Ever had the experience to be in front of a store clerk who is attending phone calls always and giving answers to someone else rather than attending to those who took the pain to come to the store? Ever had the experience of served by someone who seem to be interested in TV or talking to their friends or just plain looking bored? As it says “They will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”.

o       Often I have seen people totally ignoring what the customer is “trying” to say and stubbornly trying to answer something which is not completely satisfying the customer. It is either lack of compassion to listen, afraid to give direct answer to a direct question and instead deflect it by a fuzzy answer or plain lack of comprehension.

o       According to an article from Harvard Business Review, Level 5 leadership means a “deep personal humility combined with intense professional will”. I think it is applicable for a good customer service too. There should courtesy, combined with a determination to get customer requirement satisfied in the best possible way.

4.      Put customer first

o       Given any situation, deciding what is best for customer should be a natural decision benefiting customer first.

o       Customer takes priority – always. If that thumb rule is set, daily prioritizations will be easy.

o       Better yet, evaluate how the activity you are doing is helping customer, that guides you how best to do it.

5.      Take care of customer's problem completely. Give complete solutions.

o       I have read somewhere that your most loyal customers are not the ones who had a flawless experience, but the ones who had a problem that was resolved. I have experienced this while working in application support. Customers will appreciate if their burning problems, the ones causing them much pain and manual work, are solved quickly, completely and gracefully.

o       Solving customer’s problems shouldn’t be by putting customers through more trouble. I have experienced cases where customer service is not reachable by phone or one line email replies for a full page concern or where you had to ask the same question multiple times worded differently each time.

6.      Never burn a customer bridge:-

o       Need to add this here even if it is another end of spectrum and no doubt it will come up in daily life. There may come a time when you have to be strict to the customer or say no or defend your position or your employees or your product. There may be times when you have to let go of the customer, but as it says "Never burn a customer bridge, unless you have to. If you have to, you are more screwed up than you realize". At times it may be simpler to admit the fault and fix the problem. At any rate, don’t ignore the problem, address it completely and give the solution that will keep the customer satisfied. 

7.      Deliver consistent quality. Deliver on promises. Trust comes from doing this.

o       I have read somewhere that long term relationship takes longest time to build. It takes consistent quality deliveries, consistent delivery on promises to build the trust. You could reach a level where there is complete trust from the customer for your word if you say you will deliver something. One another quote:- “If they like you and they believe you and they trust you and they have confidence in you, then they may buy from you.”.

8.      Be credible. Be knowledgeable. Be accurate and correct. Know what you’re talking about. Prepare.

o       It is very easy to know when someone is talking about something which he doesn’t know exactly. Homework is the key. Prepare before any meeting with customer, be ready with the data customer might want, if you don’t know the answer find out and get back promptly, ask yourself the questions customer might ask and find out the answer before you go to him. Do not answer if you don’t know, the credibility once lost is not easy to regain.

9.      Take the extra step, go from implementer to trusted advisor

o       Be helpful to the customer even if there is no immediate profit in it. I would remember the occasion when the sales associate walked me to the aisle, pointed to the product and inquired whether that is what I wanted rather than giving me a vague direction and at the same time want to run away from me.

o       Better yet, anticipate customer problems and suggest to solving them. This is what takes the relationship from transactional to strategic. All the above ensure that you have customers business and in all likelihood will come to you tomorrow. But when you anticipate customers problems, that means that you have on your time been thinking about what customers wants without a stated need. That enables customers to trust you when they know that you have their concern at the top of your mind and heart and that trust makes you privy to information that nobody else has, which is what makes the relationship strategic.

o       Understand the tactical gain and the strategic gain – Assess if the forsaking tactical gain will lead to significant strategic gain.

10.  Understand customers personal goals, help them achieve it –

o       Beyond the stated needs, understand what are customer’s goals? What is customer's ambition? And align your objectives and goals to achieving that. There are “Program/Company Goals”, “Your goals”, “Your Company’s goals” and “Customer as an individual’s goal. All strong, multi year relationships have been built when you achieve all.

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