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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an occasional guest columnist.

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Make Your Customer Number Two

Want to provide fresh customer service? Ignore conventional wisdom.

by Michael D Brown (March 18, 2013)

(Note: Michael D. Brown is a speaker, management consultant, and the author of Fresh Customer Service. Clients have included small, mid-sized, and Fortune 500 companies, including Marriott, U.S. Army, Wendy's, Omni Hotels, Houston Rockets, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Amoco Oil, ARCO Oil, Murphy Oil USAóThe Wal-Mart Project, British Petroleum, and a number of colleges and universities. . He has been featured in such media outlets as Christian Science Monitor, NPR, Black Enterprise, and BusinessWeek.com.)

"Make the customer number one." Customer service experts have been chanting variations of this mantra since one caveman paid another caveman three clamshells for the skin of a sabertooth tiger. Okay, as far as we know cavemen didnít chant mantras, but you get my point. The vast majority of customer service strategies use the idea of making your customer your top priority as their cornerstone.

Since most customer service strategies are partially or wholly based on making the customer number one, then obviously customer service levels must be at an all-time high, right? Everywhere you go, people are raving about how great their daily customer service experiences are, and customer satisfaction polls back this affirmation up with hard data.

Iíll give you a moment to stop laughing before I continue. Hopefully you didnít snort any of your morning coffee out your nose. We all realize that in far too many cases, the one word that best sums up the state of customer service today is "disaster." Lines are long, information is scarce, products are out of place or out of stock, and no two employees have the same answer to the same question. If today's public-serving organizations really are making the customer number one, they have a funny way of demonstrating it.

Ironically, customer service levels are declining as competition for customer loyalty is increasing. In this age of chain expansion, a customer can find your services duplicated or your products cheaper on the next block. The one way you can differentiate yourself in a sea of similar competition is by offering a world-class customer service experience. This will never happen if you use the same stale, outdated, failed approach to customer service that you and your competitors have always used before. Namely, the "making the customer number one" approach.

The business world needs a makeover. A new perspective. A fresh approach that I like to call "Fresh Customer Service." Fresh Customer Service demystifies the process of attracting loyal, happy customers who return again and again and recommend your business to their friends and families. This type of customer reaction, what some may consider as a minor detail, can actually tip the scales and prove the difference between a prosperous organization and a bankrupt organization. So whatís the secret? The Frontline Employee.

This idea is the key to unlocking sustained long-term success in whatever area of service or production your organization offers. Throughout your organization's entire process of selling, serving, marketing, cleaning -- you name it -- the only way you can hope to deliver a world-class customer service experience is by listening to, equipping, empowering, involving, and valuing the feedback and expertise your Frontline Employees can offer.  

I know, I know, the struggle to turn just-any-old customer into a loyal customer is unyielding, and the burden of competition is so stiff you donít have time to think about what Mary Jo at the cash register and Frank the janitor have to say about things.
But these are the exact people to whom you need to listen and show your appreciation -- the operator who answers customer complaint calls, the construction worker who is building a new home, the consultant who is trying to move a client, the greeter who welcomes the customer at the entrance of the store, the cashier who tallies the customer's total at the register. The associate on the floor who explains why this appliance is better than that one, who offers to help carry grocery bags, who tidies up the restrooms, who smiles when he performs his duties; and anyone else who comes in contact with the customer, be it in person or via email, voice mail, snail mail, Instant Message, Live Chat, or whatever Internet-based form of communication has sprouted up this week.

Remember this important business fact: The employee is number one, not the customer. The customer is number two.
The key to running a successful operation is believing and practicing the concept that customers should always come second -- employees matter more in the immediate sense and should therefore come first. After all, happy employees unleash their enthusiasm and passion from within, and that passion is contagious. It infects everyone around them, including customers.

And happy employees naturally provide superior customer service. They smile. I've learned ways to make employees happy, and I've listed some of the best below.

Thank your employees every day. Thank them for going above and beyond their job descriptions. And why not thank them for doing what they're supposed to be doing? It sure can't hurt anyone.

Treat each employee with the utmost trust, honesty, respect, integrity, and commitment to his or her well-being. The Frontline Employee is the most important asset, resource, and ally to an organizationís operations. He (or she) and his (or her) quest to deliver a world-class customer service experience are paramount. We must take care of all of our Frontline Employees first if we ever hope to effectively and consistently reach the customer.

Seek to maximize the talent of each employee and work to enhance his or her quality of life.

Value diversity among your staff and work to fulfill their personal aspirations. Only then will the Frontline Employee be more apt to pour his or her heart into providing a world-class customer service experience and delivering the goals and objectives of the organization.

All employees should have the right to be involved in the planning of the work affecting them. In addition to providing a world-class customer service experience to the customers, you want to ensure that the Frontline Employee is an ambassador for the organization.

The companyís objectives, goals, aspirations, and expected customer experience should be communicated to all employees. It is everyone's responsibility to support the empowerment of the Frontline Employees. Help the Frontline Employee make the customer's problems his problems. The instant satisfaction of the customer is the responsibility of every employee.

The companyís priorities and values need to be crystal clear in the minds of all Frontline Employees. Forcing them to work in ambiguous, uncertain "gray areas" of operation is like blindfolding the average person and asking her to walk a tightrope. It's simply a recipe for disaster. Whenever I take over a new team, I always establish a general theme or mission/priority statement.

For many individuals, organizations, corporations, mom-and-pop stores, and entrepreneurs, delivering a World-Class customer service experience through Fresh Customer Service will require a cultural change. But embracing this experience, no matter how much work it will take, will deliver a competitive edge unlike any other.

Our customers are asking-- no, begging -- for Fresh Customer Service, and they want it NOW! The Frontline Employee is the person best position to fulfill this immediate demand. Realizing this, we must empower and equip the Frontline Employee with the tools necessary to make it happen and by doing so, we will be able to deliver a world- class customer service experience every time. Serve the customer and beat the competition.Ö No company is successful, financially or otherwise, without Fresh Customer Service.

If you are a manager, frontline leader, supervisor, entrepreneur, director, HR rep, small business owner or CEO, you must offer your Frontline Employees a healthy, fruitful, cohesive working environment where their contributions are valued and respected. Remember that if you first take care of the Frontline Employees, they will take care of the customers, and the bottom line will take care of itself.

(Note: Brown's latest book, Fresh PASSION: Get a Brand or Die a Generic is available for purchase from www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and through all major booksellers. His website is www.freshcustomerservice.com.)

xxx
 

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