Unlike other aspects of business that can generate from a grassroots mentality, the concept of a customer service mentality is one of those where leadership has to be engaged and lead by example. This is clearly lodged in the territory of top-down management direction, making it clear to everyone in the organization that customer service is a number one priority for the company. Achieving a customer service mentality is far easier to say than do.
Getting an organization to follow and act on a customer service mentality as a fundamental necessity is difficult. Programs, divisions, and offices like to develop their own internal culture. Sure, they have their general directive to sell, manage, ship, respond, organize, distribute, and so on. But few deal with customer service in their minds. They might think: that’s a job for sales or customer support; the rest of us are here to deal with the organization, not customers. Wrong. Every contact a person has in the organization for any reason is a chance to practice and evoke a customer service mentality. Whether it’s with people internally or customers externally, the response should be the same. That’s where there is so much challenge getting people to understand this principle daily.
Why Does It Matter So Much?
The human mind doesn’t generate thoughts and perceptions in a vacuum. It does so through experience. Sure, we can all memorize words and facts and phrases. However, they actually mean something to us through strong experiences. And it’s those strong experiences that then turn into long-term memory and perceptions that can be hard to change after the fact. Customers are no different from anyone else. Everyone who interacts with an organization, whether internally or externally, goes through an experience. And if the majority of those experiences are less than satisfactory, it tends to build up a bad taste in people’s mouths about the organization. Just think about how people feel about the IRS; it’s not a good general perception, is it? Convert that example to the business world, and folks can already probably think of a company or two that push out a poor customer service perception for a variety of reasons.
A key factor in a good customer service mentality is being honest, clear, and not over-promising. How many of us like to go buy a car and deal with sales people doing so? Not many. Much of that has to do with two things: pressure and having to filter through a lot of over-promising or lies. Honesty is so crucial to the sales process that many customers will actually pay more to deal with a vendor who is clearly transparent and truthful in every dealing. That includes taking into account what customers give as feedback and showing it was considered. No one expects businesses to be perfect. They do expect companies to act in a straightforward, honest manner and not cheat people or themselves.
Make It Personal
Over the years there has been a heavy push for automation, which, unfortunately, has taken over the customer service world with phone tree message hell. People literally despise calling customer service for fear of being stuck on the phone for hour, waiting to get a live person or having to navigate robo-responses. Many companies have assumed this is a great approach to manage customer service support and lower the cost of the same, but in reality it has sent out the message of, “we got your sale, and this is what we think of you now—not much.”
Companies who make a point of maintaining relationships, solving problems personally, and continuing to meet customers’ needs even after a sale see tremendous support and more sales as a result. Their success goes through the roof because no matter how much automation is used, they insist on maintaining a live-person, real relationship with their customers. This, too, is a key factor of the customer service mentality: not forgetting the humanity of the customer and keeping the personal bond alive.
Build Value Through a Good Experience
Just about everything one buys can be replaced with a cheaper substitute. This is the draw of the discount store. However, what maintains and keeps top companies going is that, for a bit more in price,a they deliver a tremendous amount of value and a good experience. The secret of Amazon’s success as an online retailer has been built on: provide as much selection as possible, deliver it fast, be reliable and consistent, and respond promptly to customer needs or concerns. Can you say a customer receives the same from a local discount chain store for the same product? They might get a good price, but how did that last return and refund go? Did the customer leave happy and ready to buy again or angry and never to return? For Amazon, the answer has been the former most of the time, because they make the buying experience far more enjoyable and valuable to customers. The company’s entire mentality is about giving the customer what they want.
Allow Employees to Connect
A big mistake of large companies is to overthink every aspect and control every contact of employees with customers. Personal customer experience mentality goes positive when employees are allowed discretion to treat customers as individuals versus having follow a checklist on what to do or a script on what to say. Many retailers try to follow a rigid practice of how to deal with customers, and it frequently turns out badly. Flexibility and discretion at the lowest level pays dividends when employees are trained well, can make decisions on how to personalize the customer experience, and deliver it consistently with a personal touch.
So yes, a positive customer service mentality is essential and important, and management clearly has a responsibility to push and emphasize its priority for the rest of the company. But how that principle is delivered and implemented matters a lot as well. Not understanding that internal customer service is just as important as external customer service creates a disconnect, and that can become a pervasive problem of bad experience that will lead to a bad perception of the overall organization, just like our favorite tax agency.