REQUIRED READING: Joe sighed as he left the impromptu marketing meeting he had called that morning. As the new marketing manager of a regional mortgage banking company, Joe knew he was facing an uphill battle.
The customer-service team members were responsible for handling very difficult calls and attempting to resolve problems within a few hours. But the team's spirits were understandably low, and service was suffering noticeably. Joe knew he was going to have to gain a keen understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses before he could begin to improve the department's customer service performance.
Joe is hardly alone. In today's competitive business climate, customer service is more critical than ever for mortgage banking companies that want to succeed. The companies with a reputation for excellent customer service are the ones that tend to thrive in bad times. By the same token, the companies saddled with poor customer service are more likely to struggle or go under when the going gets rough.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize that customer service is, for most businesses, the key to maintaining a competitive edge. However, customer relationships can be extremely tentative. It may take years for an organization to build a positive, productive and profitable relationship with customers, only to have it destroyed in a mere moment.
But customer service isn't just a relationship issue – it's also a bottom-line issue! Recent research shows that organizations with superior customer service tend to outperform their competitors by up to 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. In other words, the customers of top organizations buy more items, spend more money, return for new business more often, happily provide references to like-minded consumers and stick around longer. Simply increasing an organization's customer retention by a mere 5% typically results in a profit swing of between 25% and 100%!Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
But outstanding customer service is about much more than numbers. An organization's customer service mission is also the bond that brings together workers and management. When we talk about an organization's ‘brand,’ we are often talking about how delivering an outstanding customer experience comes to characterize the company's culture.
Legendary customer service examples such as IBM, Ritz-Carlton, Apple, Nordstrom, Federal Express and Zappos not only inspire their customers, but also their employees. When customer-facing employees understand and are committed to their mission, they deliver outstanding customer experiences. As author Peter Drucker wrote, ‘The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.’
But what, exactly, is an ‘outstanding customer experience’? Experience is simply an interaction between an organization and a customer. And every point at which a customer comes into contact with your organization is an opportunity for a ‘customer experience,’ whether that experience is good or bad. Each phone call, letter, email, Internet visit or face-to-face interaction is a chance to either win or lose a customer.
When we say, ‘It only takes a moment for a customer to be won or lost,’ we're really talking about three different types of moments. At it's best, that interaction could be a ‘moment of magic,’ when that customer's expectations have been met – or exceeded – with pride, efficiency and warmth. But all too often, a customer's needs are instead met with a ‘moment of mediocrity,’ in the form of indifference, ignorance or carelessness. Even worse, that customer interaction could also prove to be a ‘moment of misery.’
We've all heard nightmare stories about frustrated callers being placed on endless hold that often seems like they are being intentionally ignored. These moments of misery are dangerous to your organization's existing customer base, and they also potentially threaten future business when these stories are retold with relish at backyard barbecues or go ‘viral’ after being posted to the Internet by angry customers.
Clearly, many organizations have a vested interest in improving customer service. But customer-service managers cannot wave a magic wand and go from ‘worst to first’ overnight. Achieving the highest levels of customer service requires a great deal of time, patience and planning.
First, it is important to hire employees who have a natural propensity for customer service. Obviously, indifferent workers or poor communicators would seem to make bad choices to fill a customer-service position. But there is more to analyzing a prospective employee's customer-service skill set than relying on their word for or it or trusting your gut feelings.
One of the most effective means of pinpointing your employee's customer-service orientation is through assessment tools. Well-designed employee measurement tools can paint a very clear picture of the skills and values each candidate brings to the job. Only by looking at each person's strengths and weaknesses can you make sure your customers will be dealing with a dedicated, customer-driven staff.
A customer-service profile assessment is a powerful tool that measures six behavioral characteristics that are crucial to quality customer service: trust, tact, empathy, conformity, focus and flexibility. A careful assessment of these factors can help in selecting the best customer-service candidates from an available pool of applicants. In addition, the assessment compares the candidates' customer-service perspective with that of management's perspective.
Second, the best workforce is one that is fully engaged. Research has shown that engaged employees are competent, motivated and loyal to the company mission. In the average company, 19% of workers are considered to be loyal employees who can win customers over with spirit and enthusiasm. Loyal employees engage in dramatically superior behavior than indifferent or disgruntled workers, resulting in retention of satisfied customers and fewer complaints – and, by extension, less erosion of profit margins thanks to an increase in referrals and a lowering of customer acquisition costs.
For companies that ignore customer service or remain ignorant of their image among customers, the price of poor service may be too high to endure. It only takes a moment to win or lose a customer, so make sure that your employees are dedicated to creating moments of magic for your customers, and not moments of misery.
Charles Sujansky is CEO of KEYGroup, a consulting, assessment and training company headquartered in Pittsburgh. He is also the author of ‘Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions in Turnover To This Generation And What To Do About It,’ published by Wiley. He can be reached at (724) 942-7900.