Today, customer retention can be the unique competitive edge of a business. To achieve this companies and employees alike need, “customer focus, empathy, expertise and problem solving skills.” The payoff is big, really big, in terms of sales growth, profitability and customer loyalty. You need to know that there are three levels of customer satisfaction that companies deliver:
- Expediency – do just enough to get by/creating misery for customers.
- Adequacy – talk a good game and do what everyone else is doing/creating mediocrity in service.
- Excellence – more than satisfy customers/creating moments of magic for customers.
The goal for any business has to be to have the best customer service ratings in its industry. Expediency, adequacy, mediocrity and average just aren’t good enough. it costs you business every day.
Employees need ongoing coaching and training in order to excel at customer service. Excellence doesn’t come naturally. Companies need a steadfast commitment and a process to guide them towards continuous improvement in keeping and building customer retention. Sustained success comes from consistent and excellent execution of customer driven strategies and tactics.
Tom Peters, management consultant and author of In Search of Excellence says, “In general, service in America stinks.” Harry Beckwith in, Selling the Invisible, concurs. University of Michigan ACSI research demonstrates that customer service is on the decline nationwide. The Goldfarb report came to these conclusions about most businesses, based on customer feedback in focus groups. Service is:
- impersonal and uncaring,
- too expensive for value received,
- out of touch with customer’s time constraints.
Customers say that businesses don’t appreciate their business. They complain of rudeness and discourtesy. They feel like numbers. Customers want a prompt, polite and personal caring approach.
Customers describe that employees don’t seem to care about doing a good job. Too many times, they seem untrained and unprofessional in sales and service. Customers want competent and committed employees who know their product and job. They will be committed to employees that go the extra mile because so few really do.
Unfortunately, customers perceive that businesses rip them off with high prices, downsized or poor products and poor service. They want explanations and attention to better understand the service and the value provided. But, too often company employees are in a hurry or seem too busy and don’t bother to give the customer the time or attention needed. One of the reasons for this is that employees are dissatisfied. Companies have neglected them and not focused enough on employee engagement which leads to better customer service. Companies need to get back to the basics with employees: communicating, training, recognizing and building teamwork.
Too many companies have business policies, procedures and hours of operations that don’t seem to fit the needs of customers. Customers feel unheard and ignored. They want to be listened to and they want more customer friendly systems.
So, why excellence in improving customer retention? The answer is obvious, few are really doing it. The business that is truly committed to customer retention improvement will gain a corner on the market. Word will get around. It is well researched that the best service companies enjoy better business growth and profit margins. After all, management icon Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to get and keep customers.”
How to Achieve Excellence
For a company to succeed, the management team or each manager in his or her own department or area of operation, needs to refocus its thinking from:
- short-term to long-term
- quick fixes to solid solutions
- department effort to team effort
- profit to customer retention and referral
- status quo thinking to creative process improvement
- operational focus to employee focus
It doesn’t mean you don’t do the first things. It does mean you do the second things more. For employees to service the customer better management has to lead employees better. Research shows that 85%-95% of all service problems are management related. Here are five action steps that management can take today.
- Identify customer and employee needs and views through a variety of feedback methods and institute ongoing measurement of feedback and results.
- Refocus the company brand and service strategy through ongoing communication to all employees about detailed goals, plans and results.
- Train management in the service leadership skills so they support and drive the process.
- Educate the organization through newsletters, regular department meetings and everyday communication. Implement new approaches through training, project planning, and process improvement teams.
- Reinforce and maintain a high level of service through advertising, employee recognition, internal marketing, communication, and a positive attitude.
- Manage high performance through effective leadership, coaching and performance management strategies.
- Do it all again and focus on execution excellence.
How will this be implemented? By management fiat? By putting up motivational posters? By pinning on smile buttons? No! It happens only as a result of a concerted and continual management driven company wide campaign to focus on the customer. You will achieve excellence, superior customer ratings and industry preeminence when everyone in the business internalizes a caring attitude, consistency in handling people, and the competencies to do things right the first time. The internal or external customer’s problem has to be your problem. Their need your need.
Unless you believe in achieving superior service there is practically no chance that you’ll be the “premier” provider. From top to bottom in the organization the effort has to be a top priority.This requires persistent grind it out effort every day and an ongoing investment in people to make it an integral part of the company’s culture. That’s why 70% of companies fail in their efforts to really change and get better. The companies that persist are the ones that gain the market share and an envious reputation for service.