Delivering and measuring customer service: This isn’t rocket science!

Sales professionals are unique animals, but typically very competitive and passionate about their roles in organizations. They impart insights to potential customers and steer the prospect towards a decision in favor of their employer. When accomplished, the sales professional usually has an emotional investment in the success of the relationship. Therefore, sales people care deeply about customer service. If this is true, those that support the sales person should also care about the customer experience. I have been reading a lot lately about methods for driving the customer experience.

I have recommended reading about Zane’s bike store in the past as a primer on this topic. I just finished another book on the subject that gives a fantastic framework for customer service. This is the type of book that a sales leader can read to better understand the life cycle of a customer and how they can lead the organization to continue building loyalty after the sale.

Richard Hanks summarizes his experience in Delivering and Measuring Customer Service using two main principles:

  • The first principle states that the major drivers of financial success can be traced back to loyal customers who recommend your business over and over, and loyal employees who become increasingly more productive, providing better service and contributing more to the company’s bottom line over time.
  • The second principle states that a company that continuously measures their customers’ experiences will improve exponentially. He also points out your customers’ needs and wants change continually—you must measure their experiences in real time, be flexible and try to anticipate their needs.

Richard Hanks recommends we measure customer perceptions of service quality on the five dimensions of reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy and tangibles such as atmosphere and appearance.

In Part II – Cultural Catalysts of Service, the author echoes a platinum rule of customer service: ‘We do for our customers as they would have done for them.’ I agree strongly with this rule as it pertains to the selling experience the customer expects.

He states in Part III – Gathering Customer Feedback, that you can engage the customer in providing feedback in all five dimensions through various kinds of surveys (automated phone, Web and mobile-device surveys). These surveys will make customer feedback convenient, anonymous, unbiased, immediate and actionable and give you a complete picture of your performance.

I was also inspired by Part IV – Analyzing the Results of Customer Feedback. One of the most important keys to continuous improvement in customer service is to institutionalize customer feedback and measurement and make it a “Brand Standard” of your company.

In Part V – Using Customer Feedback to Improve, he says the best results come from employee involvement in developing and executing against customer service improvement action plans after we get feedback from our customers. A company must use customer feedback to reduce internal variation between locations. It is not enough for a company to be better than the competition, it needs to be better than itself, by making customer satisfaction measurement a required part of doing business.

I agree with Richard Hanks that employees should be recognized and rewarded for delivering exceptional customer service. Most companies I work with reward the top performing sales people with an annual trip to an exotic location. Such rewards create healthy competition between the sales people to belong to the exclusive ‘President’s Club’ and help increase sales and meet annual revenue targets.

The main thrust of Part VI – Customer Recovery and Follow-up, is that it is much more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one across multiple industries. A company must treat every customer as someone who brings long-term value. If there is a lapse in service, the best time for the company to recover a customer is immediately after the mistake is made and before they lose them forever. It is important for a company to empower employees with the authority to fix customer issues where and when they happen.

The author provides a detailed list of recovery steps a company can take when a mistake is made with a customer, including taking responsibility for the error or the inconvenience, explaining why it happened and telling the customer what was “fixed” (transparency).

A striking point that resonated with me in Part VII – Tips and Tricks, is that achieving high quality is not enough; actual quality must be translated into perceived quality. The perception of a product is shaped to a large extent by the things a consumer can comprehend with his five senses.

I think it is funny how simple customer service is, yet how even the most simple of principles can go unlearned or just unpracticed for so long. Richard Hanks does a great job reminding us how important, and how simple, it is to treat your customers right and measure the results.

I found his book to be a refreshing primer on delivering customer service with additional sections on measuring customer service. I would recommend this book to anyone who interacts with people in their business on a daily basis. The comics in each chapter were also painfully funny.

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