Every member of your team plays a part in delivering customer service excellence. Some employees may not have a customer-facing role, yet they still contribute to the perception of the business.
The Customer Service Team
Let’s consider a supermarket shop. A positive customer experience begins with the availability of a trolley or basket. This is further enhanced if the store is clean and the shelves are well stocked. It’s a bonus if there is someone on the shop floor to answer a question. If your final encounter is with a friendly, helpful person on the till, you leave with your purchases and a good impression.
Your customer service expectations have been met, but you didn’t visit the ‘Customer Service Desk’. The individuals that contributed to your positive experience aren’t members of the customer service team and it may not be considered necessary for them to undertake customer service training.
I argue that it is important for everyone to understand how their role impacts on the provision of outstanding service. Does everyone in your team know how they help to meet or exceed customer expectations?
Wearing the Company Uniform
If your staff wear a uniform, they are part of the branding. Their attitude and behaviour reflects on the company and this isn't limited to the time when they are at work. Your business is being judged on employee behaviour whenever they wear the uniform. Are they aware of this?
I recently saw two construction workers in the supermarket, both in uniform. One was younger and it seemed that he was ‘away on the job’ for the first time. The other was giving him advice on what food would be good value and easy to cook. The helpful attitude of the mentor generated a favourable impression of the company, even though it was off-site and out of work hours.
Your team members may hold open a door or give up their seat on the bus because of their own personal attitude. In addition to being grateful, the recipient will associate the positive experience with your brand.
Answering Business Calls
Back to the workplace and callers expect the telephone to be answered within three rings. Leave it any longer and you risk the caller hanging up and not calling back. As you never know when your next big customer is going to get in touch, this isn’t a risk worth taking.
The challenge is that your ‘Customer Service’ team may already be on the line, or away from their desk. As a business owner, you need to be confident that any member of your team could pick up the phone and hold a polite and professional conversation. Even if they are unable to provide the requested information, good call handling can ensure customer satisfaction. Have your team received sufficient training to give you confidence in their abilities?
Customer Service Training for All
With these examples, I hope to illustrate that each and every employee represents your company. They can all help build its reputation or damage it. For this reason, I strongly believe that everyone should receive customer service training. With greater awareness of how their role impacts on the customer experience, they can take pride in their contribution. They can also ensure that your company always makes the right impression.
If it’s time to refresh your customer service training, Aylesbury based Helen Pettifer Training is here to assist. From introductory sessions to training in specific areas of customer service, such as Effective Complaint Management, we can meet your business requirements.
For further information, please contact Helen on 07704 221241 or email@example.com
An efficient workplace is dependent on every member of the team being able to confidently communicate with each other. Communication is also at the heart of customer service, marketing and the building the reputation of the business. It’s clearly a vital business skill, but many individuals never have any communication skills training.
As we learn to talk at an early age and regularly engage in conversation, it’s easy to think that this is an unnecessary lesson. The reality is that many people are unaware of how their words and actions impact on another. They have yet to learn the value of effective communication.
The Value of Effective Communication
Confident communication leaves everyone feeling positive about the exchange. Even if the message wasn’t good news, it has been well delivered and received. Customers leave with a good impression of your company and colleagues view you as approachable and helpful. What’s more, you feel positive about how it went.
I’ve recently worked with a Buckinghamshire based company to update their communication training resources. With the key points fresh in my mind, I thought I would share a snapshot of what’s covered, in the hope that you can apply them to your business communications.
It’s All About Them
The starting point of good business communication is establishing what the other person wants to hear. In short, the message needs to be more about them than you. This applies to a 1:1 meeting, a presentation, your company website or telephone conversations.
To understand what the recipient wants to hear, you need to ask questions, listen to the answers and clarify your understanding by asking other questions. If you really take an interest in what the other person says, you can begin to consider things from their perspective.
When you gain insight into their perspective, you can begin to tailor the communication. There may be no change to the message, but you can alter the delivery. The recipient will then know that they have been heard and their points have been addressed.
Prepare to Communicate Confidently
Confident communication is also dependent on good preparation. Make it your priority to be knowledgeable about your products and services. Find out all you can about where information is stored and who in your team has specialist expertise, so you know where to turn to get answers. Also make it your business to research developments in your industry.
If you are asked a question that you don’t have the answer to, don’t make something up. Apologise, explain that you will have to ask and will get back to them with an answer. Then make it your mission to gather the information and present it. You’ll learn in the process.
Passive, Aggressive or Assertive Communication
There are four main forms of communication; Passive, Aggressive, Passive Aggressive and Assertive.
A Passive communicator lacks confidence. They rarely initiate a conversation or make eye contact. They will do anything to avoid conflict and say anything to please others.
An Aggressive communicator is demanding and intimidating. They see others as inferior and lack respect. They often use threatening behaviour or language to control the conversation and outcome.
A Passive Aggressive communicator complains and blames. They are negative and hostile, but typically in a non-direct way. They resent having to have this conversation and make that very clear in their body language, tone and expression.
An Assertive Communicator has self-respect, but is equally considerate of others. They listen, are interested and are able to articulate their points. The communication comes across as relaxed and natural.
Assertive communication is the only acceptable option. This applies when you are talking to your colleagues, customers, suppliers or prospects. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or the new apprentice, if they are your biggest client or they are making a complaint, assertive communication is the only way to achieve a beneficial outcome for all.
Confident communication is a valuable tool that benefits everyone. We’ve explored three main points that contribute to confident communication:
The way you present yourself at work speaks volumes about your enthusiasm for the job. When it comes to customer service, your personal presentation will make all the difference to how you and your company are perceived.
Personal presentation includes your attitude and body language, as well as what you wear. If you get them all up to scratch, you’ll be set to make a positive impression.
First Impressions Count
We all know how to make a good impression and this was evident when I recently took part in mock interviews at The Amersham School. Students were given a choice of roles to apply for, or they could select a job they were interested in. I interviewed for positions including a Marketing Assistant, a Learning Support Assistant and Donald Duck at Disneyland Paris!
On the day of my visit, the school held a non-uniform day. In theory all of the applicants could have arrived in their favourite outfit, but they were all dressed in their smart school uniform. I immediately noticed that one student had even polished his shoes. (These small details don’t go unnoticed!) It was clear that they wanted to make a positive first impression.
Personal presentation extends to your body language too. I could easily identify which students were genuinely interested in the role and who felt confident in the interview setting. We’re all tuned in to observing posture and mannerisms; they tell us how engaged and attentive a person is. An employer or customer will look for the non-verbal signs that communicate that you are switched on.
I was pleased that all students greeted me with a smile, eye contact and handshake. These simple gestures cost nothing and should be used so often that they become an automatic habit. The students understood their importance, but there are still too many customer service interactions where a smile and eye contact is missing. It makes me so mad, that I’m writing a book on the subject!
One girl was chewing gum during the interview. She was clearly a bright student, she was well dressed and interviewed well, but the gum wasn’t appropriate to the situation. It would be enough to put me (and others) off hiring her, so we talked about this at the end.
Interviews can be incredibly stressful, but at their heart, they are a conversation. Although you can’t predict what will be asked, if you have researched the company and have a genuine interest in contributing to their goals, you’ll be on the right tracks.
Whilst all of the The Amersham School students spoke confidently, the ones that stood out clearly had a passion for the role they applied for. They were already putting things in place to gain relevant experience for their dream job.
The student that made a huge impression with me was the boy who was applying for the position of Donald Duck at Disneyland Paris. To help make this a reality, he was studying drama and performing arts, both in school and in his spare time. His passion was infectious.
Disney is renowned for providing the highest levels of Customer Service and we discussed his understanding of how this could be put into practice. I truly believe he has what it takes to deliver outstanding Customer Service and give children an amazing and memorable Disney experience.
Although my role at such events is to help the students, I get so much out of the experience too. It provides an opportunity to see the skills and ambitions of the next generation and shows ways I can help them improve vital work skills.
It also highlights that if you have ambition then anything is possible; if you want to be Donald Duck, and work hard to fulfil that goal, you might just achieve your dreams!
Introduction to Customer Service
If your colleagues would benefit from building their confidence and skills in customer facing situations, my ‘Introduction to Customer Service Training’ is ideal. The course will help them to develop their skills, both as individuals and as a team, so they are equipped with the means to deliver outstanding customer service.
In March I was a speaker at the Three Counties Expo in Luton. The focus of my presentation was ‘Why you need Unhappy Customers’. As the presentation was well received, I thought I’d share the main discussion points in this blog.
We often see the term ‘continuous improvement’ crop up in business plans and vision statements. It means the company is striving to be better, it wants to excel. This is very positive and motivational talk, but how is it put into practice?
In order to understand what to improve, you need an objective perspective. Any boardroom strategy should be based on feedback from the most important people: your customers.
The opinion of your customers is one of the most valuable assets for business development, yet too few businesses actively seek out honest feedback. The aim of my Three Counties Expo talk was to encourage more companies to:
Ask for Feedback
Any company that wants to get to the top of their field has to find ways of exceeding expectations. You can’t accurately second guess what your customers want, but you can ask.
If approaching your customers for feedback seems daunting, consider the fact that you can’t lose.
Responding to Honest Feedback
It is professional to respond politely to all comments – positive or not. Thank the customer for their feedback and tell them how you will use the information they have shared.
At times you may not have requested the feedback. The customer may post their views on a review site or social media. Again, it is courteous to personally thank the reviewer. If they were dissatisfied with your goods or services, refer to your company policy for the appropriate way to respond. Remember your comments will be shared publicly and this is an excellent opportunity to show that you care about your customer’s experience.
Don’t be tempted to try to ignore or delete negative feedback. Although high scoring reviews give us confidence that our expectations will be met, companies that also show (rather than block) negative feedback are also viewed favourably. The reader feels the company is honest and transparent. Rather than avoidance techniques, you need to act on negative reviews.
Act on Feedback
There is no point in asking for opinions if you aren’t going to use that insight to inform decision making and change.
If feedback is positive, invest more time and energy on the specific areas which have been praised. Then look at ways to bring other areas of your service up to these exceptional levels.
On the other hand, if you have unhappy customers, you can find out exactly where you are going wrong. This helps to direct time, energy and investment into areas where a tangible difference can be made. It ensures that you can make changes for the better.
Customer Service Training
If you discover more unhappy customers than you expected, my customer service consultancy can help to turn things around. I’ll make recommendations, starting with small adjustments, which can make a big difference. Change for the better isn’t always meteoric; little details can really count.
Even with the best intentions, every business will fail to meet customer expectations at some point. The manner in which the customer complaint is handled is critical on these occasions. Get it right and reputations can be redeemed, get it wrong and the problem can rapidly escalate.
In my Complaints Handling Training I emphasise the importance of these five steps:
Any member of an organisation can receive a complaint, so it is important that everyone receives complaint handling training. A clear understanding of what to do, and how to do it, will ensure that all employees are sufficiently equipped to turn the situation around.
Beyond upholding the reputation of your company, clear policies benefit employees. Job satisfaction can be gained from resolving a difficult situation with confidence; it is certainly preferable to being at the receiving end of frustrated customers who become ever more irate.
Complaint Handling Awards 2018
On Thursday 22 February, I was one of a panel of judges at the Complaint Handling Awards 2018. The shortlisted entrants were given the opportunity to showcase the strategies they were employing to reduce complaints and improve customer relations. Our panel was judging ‘Proactive Complaint Handling in the Utility Industry’.
The utilities industry is governed by OfWat, an organisation designed to build customer confidence in water and waste water services. If a customer complains the utility company is fined by OfWat. If the complaint isn’t resolved within 10 days, the fine increases. It is therefore in the interest of all utility companies to invest in effective customer services.
As a judge, I was keen to see initiatives which stretched beyond the regulatory requirements. I wanted to understand the measures that each company had put into place to enhance the five steps listed above.
The judges unanimously agreed that United Utilities would receive the Proactive Complaints Handling Award. Their initiatives seemed firmly imbedded in the culture of the company, with all employees taking on responsibility for customer service.
What we can learn from the Award Winners?
No matter which industry you operate, we can all learn from some of the complaint handling strategies that United Utilities have implemented.
Embed Customer Service in the Company Culture
When it came to addressing the issue of customer complaints, all United Utilities’ employees were involved in initial thoughts, development and implementation. Weekly briefings continue the process, with feedback and fresh ideas being shared across the team.
Do all of your team receive customer service training?
United Utilities had established ways to have an active presence within the communities they served. They regularly set up stands in local town centres and have a manned company bus on hand when burst pipes, or other issues, affect their service. Being approachable and providing information in person helps to eliminate concerns and complaints.
How do you make your company approachable?
Give Employees Autonomy
Isn’t it frustrating when you make a complaint and the individual needs to get a supervisor to resolve the problem? It’s better to have a clear policy on the actions that can be taken; replacements, refunds and goodwill gestures, then trust your team to use them as appropriate.
United Utilities gave responsibility to their staff to make decisions within set guidelines, do you?
Complaint Handling Training
All of the companies that we judged had been driven to take action because their performance had at one point been sub-standard. Customers were dissatisfied, they had a low rank in industry league tables, employee motivation was rock bottom and the reputation of the company was poor. That’s not to mention the cost implications of OfWat fines. They took action, initiated change and have reaped the rewards.
If your company is receiving more complaints that you are happy with, if the standards of service aren’t consistent and your reputation has taken a battering, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
My in-house Complaint Handling Training will provide practical steps to help turn things around. You can regain good customer relations and could even find your team shortlisted for a Customer Service Award!
If your business works hard to deliver quality goods and services, the thought of receiving a complaint can have negative connotations. I want to convince you otherwise.
A direct complaint should be viewed as constructive feedback. All business owners are encouraged to undertake regular market research and here is a customer offering you their point of view.
A complaint offers your business the opportunity to build its reputation. If you handle the complaint professionally, the customer feels very positive about the experience and your brand. In a 3 year Consumer Action Monitoring (CAM) survey, 50% of respondents stated that they had a greater respect for a company that handled their complaint effectively.
For this reason, I’m keen to support businesses to effectively manage their complaints procedure. My training highlights why direct complaints should be welcomed. This includes the opportunity to investigate the problem:
If you still feel that it is better not to receive complaints, the good news is that only 1 in 26 dissatisfied customers make a direct complaint. The bad news is that the other 25 will simply not do business with you again. No second chance.
What’s more, they will share the experience with an average of 15 people. This makes it clear that a small problem, which might have easily been resolved, can escalate to a lot of people viewing your business negatively, without you even being aware.
Being Equipped to Effectively Handle Customer Complaints
If you prefer a problem solving approach, where your business has the chance to prove its worth, a customer complaints policy is important. Your policy should detail how your business will:
A Customer Complaints Policy is not Enough
A clear policy is one thing, but it is only effective if it is put into action. This means that every member of your team needs to fully understand it, be trained and feel supported when delivering it. A complaint can be directed at anyone and the culture of your company should ensure that a competent and consistent response in delivered by all.
In addition, your company should be approachable. Customers should feel confident of being listened to and the situation dealt with professionally. This point is clearly made in the NHS Complaints Procedure:
"What is important is that no matter how efficiently or effectively designed a complaints process, policy or guideline is, it will make no difference if the environment and culture discourages people from making a complaint or raising a concern in the first place"
Why do we need a Complaints Handling Policy?
If your business hasn’t formalised an accepted means of responding to complaints, the result can be:
The British have a reputation for queueing; we are willing to wait our turn. Having said this, frustrations soon rise if we’re kept waiting for longer than expected. Good planning and an assertive approach can help keep everything on track.
Planning for Crunch Points
With a little preparation, any business can work out the crunch points.
Identifying the crunch points enables measures to be put into place to reduce the risk of queues.
Helping Specialists to Stay on Schedule
This week I’ve had the pleasure of training a group of professional Speech and Language Therapists. They are all self employed and have the responsibility of effectively managing their caseload.
The therapists had identified particular problems with customers taking up more than their allotted time. They wanted to prevent lengthy conversations on the telephone prior to an appointment and multiple questions being asked at the end of a session.
I was asked to deliver Assertiveness Training to help the therapists to gain confidence in:
In a caring role, it can be a challenge to turn people away. However, these professionals have to attend to many clients, as well as earning a living from their expertise. They need an assertive approach to keep everything on track.
The training focused on many aspects of assertive behaviour. Three key points that were raised during the session were:
The Speech and Language Therapist identified an issue with clients contacting them at all times of the day, including evenings and weekends. The first step was to define their working boundaries to ensure a healthy work/life balance. We also discussed the cost of their services and the terms on which they operate.
With operational terms agreed, I explained the importance of having processes and documentation in place to formalise the boundaries. Terms and Conditions, payment terms and contracts are all effective for clearly communication and the management of client expectations.
In order to operate within the agreed boundaries, there are times when the therapists simply have to say no. We also discussed ways of saying ‘no’ in a polite and constructive manner that didn’t leave the therapist feeling guilty or the customer feeling aggrieved.
Managing difficult conversations
Few of us enjoy having a difficult conversation, but they are essential in many jobs. When such a conversation is necessary, we discussed the importance of a planned meeting, at a mutually convenient time, where everyone involved has had time to prepare. This increases the chance of discussions being based on information and facts, rather than emotion and feelings.
An Assertive Workforce
An assertive workforce is confident and productive. This benefits the team, the business and the customers. If certain customers are impacting on your ability to do your job effectively, assertiveness training can empower positive change.
Places are available on my next Assertiveness Training Course, or get in touch to arrange training to meet the specific needs of your team.
I’d like to end with this powerful quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:
“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
If you care about your work, answering a call from a disgruntled customer can be disheartening. You can soon bounce back if:
What happens if Customer Service isn’t a Priority?
Without adequate training, resources or support your response is delivered on a whim. You say what you believe to be the right thing. If the problem escalates, the customer, and possibly your manager, blame you. It’s difficult not to take this personally.
Let’s imagine that the volume of customer complaints begins to mount up, there is no doubt that it impacts on your wellbeing. Before too long, your communication becomes defensive. You start to dread answering the phone and may avoid doing so. You can feel the emotional stress building and your positivity dwindling.
One morning, you simply haven’t the energy to face another day in the office. You ring in sick and start applying for another job.
With your notice handed in, your employer has to dedicate time and money to filling the vacancy. With no change in customer service policy, the cycle of hiring ‘incompetent employees’ continues.
A Fresh Approach to Customer Service
Fortunately, your new employer has a fresh approach to customer service. They offer regular training to all members of the team. They have robust systems in place that helps everyone to consistently deliver a high quality service. In team meetings, customer feedback and staff ideas are shared, reviewed and where appropriate, are acted on.
Over time, you regain your confidence when speaking on the telephone. In a bid to answer customer queries, you learn everything you can about the products, services and industry.
After a few months, you get the opportunity to talk directly to customers at an exhibition and love the experience. The feedback from colleagues and clients boosts your self-esteem. Going from strength to strength, you suggest new ways to enhance the customer experience. In this company, the cycle of hiring ‘driven and enthusiastic employees’ continues.
Customer Service doesn’t just Benefit the Customer
If customer service underpins your operations, the benefits are far reaching. In addition to reliably delivering to your customer’s expectations, it empowers your workforce and enhances their attitude to work.
If you would like to understand more about the role of customer service in employee wellbeing, I invite you to attend our event on Thursday 1 February in Aylesbury.
How to Create a Mentally Healthy Workplace and Boost Employee Motivation is designed for companies wanting a driven and enthusiastic workforce. If that’s you, click here for further information and to book a place.
I emailed a company at the beginning of September with a question about a product I was interested in purchasing. To this day, I’ve not had a response. Without a reply, I am left with the lasting impression that they simply don’t care about me and my enquiry.
We often experience this ‘I don’t care’ attitude - from a supermarket sales assistant mindlessly flinging our eggs down the conveyor belt, to a manager who is not interested in resolving a complaint brought about by a mistake made by the company. As a customer on the receiving end of this attitude, I feel frustrated, angry, and resentful and eager to take my custom elsewhere.
So how can companies show customers they truly care and why is it so important?
Do you care about your premises?
I regularly walk past an office block in my town and for the past few months I’ve noticed a blind in the window is broken. The impression this gives to the passing traffic is one that the company doesn’t care that a blind is broken or even care about the image it’s portraying to the outside world. How much time and money would it actually take to fix the blind or install a new one? Probably not much in the big scheme of things. Yet it remains broken.
Taking care of your premises is key to creating the impression you are a company that cares. If a company spends time and energy looking after it’s premises, how much more will it spend looking after its staff and customers?
Making sure there are no rubbish or weeds outside the building, ensuring the hedges are regularly cut back, parking bays are clearly marked, company signage is clean and clear, the reception area is clean, warm, and welcoming are all little things that can make a big difference to a potentially new client visiting your premises.
It also shows your employees that you care about them too and are providing them a clean, safe, and enjoyable working environment.
Do you care about your reputation?
A business reputation is a combination of what a business does, how it acts and what others think of it.
Building and maintaining a powerful reputation is important when it comes to gaining and keeping employees and customers. A business reputation can take years to build up but just seconds to destroy if customers and staff are poorly treated.
Strive to develop a reputation for treating staff respectfully, keeping your promises, working in accordance to the company values, being organised and efficient, and being of value.
Do you care about your staff?
How often have you walked past an employee, stopped for a chat, and asked them about their day not just about work? Take time to get to know your team members; what they enjoy doing in their spare time, what are their priorities outside work, if they have a family or pets.Staff who feel valued and appreciated will invariably go above and beyond for both the company and the customer.
Do bear in mind though, not everyone is comfortable talking about their personal lives in the workplace, so show you care by being sensitive and discreet with any information that is given to you.
Do you care about your customers?
Customers will return to a company they like, trust, and feel valued. And the perfect way to make them feel valued is to show them you truly care.
There are many ways you can show the customer you care about them. Respond when they ask for information or leave feedback, take time to listen and understand their wants and needs, make them feel important rather than just another sale, provide the personal touch with a genuine warm and friendly welcome.
So, what do you care about?
Do you care about cost-cutting, the quick sale and profits or do you care about creating a safe, positive work environment with engaged, motivated staff delivering a consistently outstanding experience to your customers?
What an incredible week it was celebrating National Customer Service Week 2017.
In the course of 5 days, I have hosted, spoken at and organised various events across Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, with the sole purpose of helping businesses deliver a first-class experience to their customers.
Now the dust has settled, I am reflecting on the week and the knowledge I’ve taken away from all the events.
The main fact I’ve discovered is that many businesses truly appreciate the key role Customer Service plays in the success of their company. The people who attended my workshops were all keen to improve their service standards and behaviours. They value their customers and want to ensure their customers receive a consistently high-quality experience. These principles are to be praised and encouraged as they are a shining example to others.
My Recognition and Reward seminar on the last day was interactive and inspirational. The businesses who attended this event all understood the principle of taking care of their staff and the powerful impact engaged and motivated employees have in successful customer interaction. We discussed ways to create a positive working environment and discovered what the top four motivators are. It was great to hear personal stories of how engaged staff truly make a difference to the customers.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that people love networking. I’ve personally enjoyed the opportunity of putting people in contact with other businesses, providing them the platform to discuss their products and services, find some common ground and build relationships. I firmly believe in the power of successful business relationships and the knowledge and benefit this brings companies, especially new businesses like myself.
As this year’s National Customer Service Week comes to an end, I want to take this opportunity of thanking everyone who attended my events, encourage you to take on board the information you heard and to continue delivering an outstanding customer experience – after all, without customers where will your business be?
I look forward to planning and hosting many more events during National Customer Service Week 2018!