My Two Cents: Customers Demand RespectIn my last column, we examined the results of a survey which studied the reasons a customer stays or leaves a company. The survey was published by AchieveGlobal. In addition to surveying customers for the reasons they stay or leave, the study obtained, from many companies, the names of a company’s top customer contact employees. These top customer contact employees were then interviewed to answer the underlying question, “What do top employees do that other employees don’t do or don’t do as well?”

AchieveGlobal then analyzed the interview transcripts to determine what competencies create exceptional experiences for customers. By studying their findings, we can develop a list of recommendations for our customer service employees, which, hopefully, will make them top customer contact employees.

• Build Relationships — Even given the short time frame a customer service person can spend on the phone with a customer, it is important to communicate warmly. Use the customer’s name and ask thoughtful appropriate questions. If you understand the customer’s needs and real issues, you normally get a good outcome.

• Listen Attentively — This is most important. Listen actively, making notes as necessary, and use verbal cues to draw out the customer. Don’t take their complaints or feedback personally — they are not angry at you. Be sure to listen carefully to everything they say as there may be “hidden” clues as to what is their real underlying problem.

• Gather Information — Feel free to ask questions that will help you fully understand the customer’s underlying issue. For example, if they say a bedroom is cold, ask which bedroom and ask what other areas they are comparing this bedroom to. If a system is not working, try to find out exactly what is not working. All of this information will make it easier for you to ensure that a solution is found to the customer’s problem.

• Communicate Clearly — When an issue arises, effective employees take the initiative to clearly explain what happened, why it happened, and, most importantly, will do this in terms the customer understands. In our industry, like most, we have many inside terms with which we all become so familiar that we assume everyone understands. Remember that most customers don’t know about the various parts of a furnace and air conditioner, so using terms like R-410A without an explanation may have no meaning to them. Remember don’t try to impress them with your inside knowledge. Speak to them so that they understand you.

• Manage Difficult Conversations — Things will happen. When a mistake occurs to anger a customer, avoid blaming anyone, including the organization, another employee, and most of all, the customer. If an apology is required, give one. Do all you can to let the customer make his complaint and then defuse the tension with an apology. It never hurts to ask the simple question, “What can we do to make you satisfied?”

• Empathize — Visualize yourself in the customer’s position. Communicate sincere understanding, even if the customer is at fault. Speak to the customer with a tone of voice that validates that you understand the customer’s emotion and you are there to help.

• Avoid Problems — It is important to not only resolve their issue, but to prevent issues from recurring. Address the customer’s issues, say what you plan to do to correct the problem, and then, most importantly, do it. Don’t promise something that you are not sure you can accomplish. It makes things worse to promise the part will be in tomorrow if you are not absolutely sure that it will be. It is almost always better to say it will be in the day after tomorrow, and then if it comes in tomorrow, call and surprise them. Remember under-promise and then over-deliver.

• Learn Continuously — Our world is in a constant state of flux. As a result, the type and nature of our customers is constantly changing. By listening carefully and learning from the customer contacts you will be able to stay current with the latest issues that are significant to your customers.

Give this list to all of your employees who regularly are in contact with customers. Then pay attention when you hear them communicating with a customer to make sure they are practicing these recommendations. Most of all, continually remind your employees about the importance of the customer.

Publication date: 4/22/2013