We Need to Stop Sucking at Customer Service
In 2018, sales-and-service-solutions company NewVoiceMedia released the shocking findings that businesses were losing $75 billion dollars a year because their customer service wasn’t good enough, up from $62 billion in losses the year before. That's a scary trend, but why is this happening? The prize is certainly big enough, so why can’t companies stop sucking at customer service? Isn’t it a fairly simple thing to fix? Well, yes and no.
Customer service, on the surface, is simple. A customer needs something -- a purchase, guidance, information, help with a problem, etc. -- and you help him or her with it. Easy-peasy. Anyone can do that. Outstanding customer service, on the other hand, is a quite a different thing to achieve. Outstanding service is delivering the above, but in a manner that consistently conveys one overriding message: I care. And that seems to be the sticking point.
The essence of outstanding customer service really is that easy to define. When you strip it all down, past the fancy strategies and consultant-speak, an outstanding customer-service experience is one where your customers walk away or hang up believing that you genuinely care about them. You’ve taken ownership. They trust that the outcomes important to them are also important to you. They understand that you value their relationship with your company. To wit, the same NewVoiceMedia study confirms that 86 percent of people are more likely to stay a customer if they feel a positive emotional connection with you.
Poor customer service, of course, is what results when customers get the opposite message. When customers believe that you don't care, that you're uninterested or that they are just another number to you, they will ultimately say they had a bad experience. The negative impact of this is massive. According to a 2018 study by Microsoft, on a global level, 61 percent of consumers stop doing business with a company after a poor customer experience. Yikes.
Providing outstanding customer service -- and preventing those poor customer experiences from occurring -- involves three fundamental things: skillset, mindset and consistency.
The skillsets for customer service are myriad: Creating positive first impressions, language skills, problem-solving, body language, listening, engaging, building rapport, asking questions and service recovery, just to name a few. These are all keys for creating positive connections with customers, and like all skills, they need to be honed. Sadly, though, they are often taken for granted and mistakenly dismissed as “just common sense.”
Our mindset is the great differentiator. All the skill in the world can't replace a bad attitude. Sending the message to your customers that you care means, get this, that your people actually have to care. Sure, perhaps you can fake it for a while, but eventually customers will figure you out.
Consistency is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. What happens when every customer starts to believe that everyone in your organization genuinely cares about them? You get real customer loyalty, that's what happens. Then you can take all of your points cards, special promotions and membership privileges and put them on the shelf. You won't need them.
So, there’s this $75 billion-dollar dillema out there staring us all in the face. What’s going on? Why do so few companies appear to be stepping up and filling their pockets? Why isn’t outstanding customer service the norm instead of the exception?The simple answer is because it’s hard. Very hard. Hugely hard. For a company to create a culture that delivers consistently outstanding customer service, there needs to be unshakeable commitment from the top, relentless support in the middle, non-negotiable internal service standards and serious financial investment for training throughout an organization. It also requires time -- a lot of time. Did I mention the relentless support?
In today's instant-gratification, show-me-the-metrics world, this level of commitment is a scary one for CEOs and senior leaders, but there is no question about the link between customer service and organizational success. A zillion studies like the NewVoiceMedia one have proven that.
The question, then, is: How do you prove in a monthly report the ROI of your customer service-improvement efforts? It’s been six months since your investment in customer-service training, leadership training and servic-recovery training. Complaints are down, sales are up, and your monthly customer feedback scores have spiked. But your logistics person says it’s because delivery time has improved. The operations guy says it’s the new packaging, and the marketing team says it was the ad campaign. Who’s right? Who knows? The bottom line is, when it comes to the success of your business, the smart money is on making the commitment to outstanding customer service. Get your stakeholders, leaders and team on board. Set the goal, then super-glue your accelerator to the floor. Don't worry too much about the monthly metrics. Stay focused on being outstanding for your customers. The risk, if there is one, is small. I’ve never seen a company fail because their customer service is too good. The potential payoff, on the other hand, is exciting. Seventy-five billion dollars worth of exciting. But like every journey, it starts with that single step.