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Saturday, June 30, 2012

10-Point check for Customer Service : Part I

As customers, we traditionally understood "customer service" as a department inside an organization that dealt in things that went wrong after customer had purchased anything. Your cellphone bill seems overstated, ok, then call customer service. The new dress that you bought need to be exchanged for a different size, ok, then walk up to the customer service with receipt within a stipulated time. Your refrigerator may require some repairs. If it is still within the warranty period, call customer service to send a mechanic. This is how the concept of customer service has been understood by customers and practiced by companies.

In this new era of hyper competition, we need to redo the whole concept and practices of customer service. While theoretical discourses are plenty, the implementation of these concepts is still meager in reality. Here is a 10-point check to run in your customer service process:

Point 1: Is your customer service making a first impression?

Customer service performs its functions in three time stages: before, during, and after a purchase is being made.  In the first step, see if your customer service is prompt enough to answer the phone or greet customers when they enter the floor. There are many companies who publicize phone numbers and then when you call, nobody answers! There are sales centers where nobody greets you when you enter their floor. In its redesigned retail outlets, Apple has introduced a front-door person who greets customers when customers enter the floor, and then the front-person claps and congratulates customers when they leave with their new purchases. First impression can be long-lasting, it might even change the perception of customers about your organization.

Point 2: Is your customer service trained to be courteous and honest?

Courtesy costs nothing, but buys everything. This old adage is quite applicable to customer service. Consistency and courtesy create a bond between customers and the company. Courteous service is applicable even when dealing with angry customers. Ironically, the opportunity of emotional bonding with customers is best served not when customers are happy, but when something goes wrong and unhappy customers walk in the store with their sleeves up the elbow! Effective handling of such customers by making them happy will make them leave the store with a smile on their faces. Definitely, you have added someone to the list of your loyal customers. Honesty is another dimension that must be practiced all the time. Do not rush your customers to sales, even at the expense of your honesty. Many times, it is possible to trick customers into sales by hiding facts or convincing him/her about the need of the item you are selling. In the long run, customers understand this trick when it is too late for them. It does not win your business in customers’ minds in the long run. Thinking customers fool is a foolish idea.

Point 3: Is your customer service adding value through information exchange?

Answering right questions with right answers is extremely important. This exchange of information requires knowledge.  It is important to update customer service personnel about product knowledge so that they can answer customer queries and worries. This knowledge should not only cover basic information that most customers would look for, but also unusual information like sources of ingredients, ethnic value preferences, safety issues, health issues etc.

Point 4: Are your customer service personnel trained to be a trainer?

In some industries, e.g., electronics retailing, providing information to customers may not be enough. Your sales personnel may well assume the role of customer trainer. A lot of after-sales issues can be resolved even before they occur if customers can be trained during the sale process. Apple stores usually have a set-up area where employees help customers set their gadgets ready for use. 

Point 5: Is your customer service aware of warranty issues and fine prints?

In many industries, after sales service is a great value proposition. There where comes a good amount of fine prints that even many customer service executive might not be aware of. As a result, customers might later be surprised and feel like “Oh no, I did not know that!” This feeling of being tricked and fool creates dissatisfaction which cannot be corrected by customer service by going beyond company policy. As a customer service personnel, you may feel sorry for the customer, but your hands are tied because you would have to act within the boundary of the warranty policy. That is why, odds are in your favor if you provide this information beforehand.
(to be continued)