The ever-shifting notion of good service can be hard to keep up with, especially in competitive industries where the bar keeps getting raised, but there are five fundamentals of sensational service that are easy to deliver on.
Great service is inquisitive. People tend to enjoy it when someone shows an interest in them. There is a school of thought that avoids asking direct questions to clients and customers, for fear of alienating them. We have all been in situations where we have walked into a shop, preferring anonymity when a shop assistant says “Can I help you with anything?” and you feel like walking away immediately. But you can’t base your service model around this fear. Asking clients directly, or making offers to them is such an easy way to make huge gains in service.
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Don’t miss this opportunity. Ask your customers what they want. You can do it directly: “How can I help you?” or do it directly, more softly, “If you are experiencing problems perhaps I can assist”, “perhaps you’d be interested in…”
Action + promise
People want actions and results, they want fixes and solutions. They want to know you are working to help them. If you make promises such as “I will find out about that and call you back before the end of the day” it needs to happen. The best way to do this is to have a separate sheet, document or program into which you write down or type the action as soon as you make the promise. Any delay in recording your promise will dramatically reduce the chance of you actually doing this.
Another important element of action + promise is to gather enough information so that you can fulfil the promise. If someone is trying to track an order, for example, and you make the enquiry with the transport company only to find that you don’t have the address or consignment number you have just wasted your time, and you have to go and contact the customer again without resolving the issue.
Some people fall into the trap of not contacting the customer until the problem is fully resolved. It is an understandable approach, but not an effective one. When you promise to call a customer back you should do so at the end of that day or within a short timeframe (whichever is appropriate given the enquiry) to say that the answer isn’t available but you wanted to give an update. It just shows the customer that you haven’t forgotten them, and it usually eases any frustration that is starting to build.
Remembering all the information
Is there anything more frustrating than someone responding without addressing all of the requirements you outlined? As a service provider you need to get the details right. It is one of those aspects of service where there is no in-between; there is only delight or frustration. Use every memory trigger you can: recording the promise, scheduling reminders, being very specific about each detail. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification – some people feel like they need to present a front of impeccable memory, however, most people will prefer to repeat themselves or explain further if it ensures they get the service they truly want.
Service is all about timing. Most people are aware of the good-fast-cheap triad in which you’re told to only expect two of those. This is why we are happy to wait 3-4 weeks for Amazon to deliver some books to us (for those that still read the physical form) because it’s cheap and the product is good. To get it quicker we pay extra. But when it comes to sensational service the effect you want to see is that look of surprise in a customer’s eyes. For example, when you ask a mechanic when your car will be ready and the response is “less than two hours” you get a nice surprise.
Time is the one thing that customers are more sensitive about than anything. Even more so than money – a customer will become really frustrated about time. Two minutes on hold in a queue? Frustrated. Waiting ten minutes because you’re late to a client meeting? Bad news! An hour late for a call back? You can just about forget that customer!
Only make promises you can keep and always try to deliver earlier than a customer expects. People are understanding if you manage the expectations, e.g. “I won’t be able to call you back until tomorrow.” But if someone is hoping for an immediate response and you don’t inform them the wait will be over 24 hours then you’ve delivered poor service.
The hardest element of service is possibly the most difficult to define and articulate into behaviours. Those that really care about their customers and what happens to them are the ones that get remembered. We have all seen companies that try to systemise heart by sending birthday cards or a 10% discount on your birthday, but that is a far cry from encountering a staff member that is generous, honest, responsive and empathic. We hear it in the tone, we see it on faces, and we read it in emails.
The best way to ensure your team is delivering a service with heart is to constantly reinforce the impact their behaviours have on customers. You can’t force your staff to care more than they currently do, but you can be very detailed about which actions cause which results. Creating this awareness will tap into their urge to provide good service. This is the best chance you have at building a team that shows ‘heart’.
Overall, companies have so much to learn about service. Creating detailed processes that remove the human side of the interaction might improve efficiency and short term profitability, but it reduces service and reduces the value being delivered to customers. When a company has service as their point of difference they gain a reputation that is extremely valuable and engenders a lot of loyalty with customers. Following the five elements above will ensure that your team is well positioned to deliver sensational service.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.