by Judy M McCutcheon MBA
I have a very good friend and before I met him, I heard about the extraordinary quality of service he gives to his guests. We can say that he is legendary in the service industry. His clients are all raving fans and they spread the word about him loudly, they even follow him around as he moves from island to island.
We can’t all be legendary, but we can at least strive to be. The thing is every industry is a service industry, whether you are making widgets or serving tea. Direct contact with the customer is not necessary for you to consider giving good service, every part of an organisation impacts the end user of your goods and service – the customer. There was a time I thought that the phrase ‘customer service’ was a cruel made-up joke, but then again when the phrase is only ‘customer service’ it could go either way. The only way to make your service really count is by making it excellent and the only way to do that is to have an organisation culture that is steeped in service excellence. And when I say organisation, I don’t mean just the big ones, I am talking from the little hole in the wall to the ones with the big fancy office. Every organisation big, small, and micro is capable is giving excellent service.
Some of us seem not to be bothered by bad service because we keep going back to those same places over and over. It’s almost as if we are sadomasochistic. Ours is an economy that is heavily dependent on service, and sometimes I think that people who serve believe that the only ones who deserve good service are the tourists and the medical students. And in some places even service to the tourist is mediocre. We also need to be very aware that the local community has tremendous purchasing power and if you don’t treat them how they deserve to be treated they will simply move on. Online shopping has now displaced a portion of local shopping, just look at how busy those mailbox businesses are, and they are not only busy during the festive season, they are busy all year round. While people are generally price sensitive, they will buy from you even if your prices are slightly higher, once they consistently receive excellent service. And excellent service is not simply asking the customer, ‘can I help you’ it’s about going above and beyond for the customer. Bad service begins with a notion as simple as you not acknowledging receipt of an email, to your company’s phone ringing off the hook.
I went into a boutique recently, I wanted to buy a blouse they had. When I got there the owner was at the counter talking with a customer, I went in, said good afternoon and she did not acknowledge me. That was okay, I knew what I wanted so I went straight to that item. When she was finished she walked the customer to the door and she stayed outside talking to someone who was sitting on a bench just outside the store. She never came back into the store to see what I wanted. Now, there could be several reasons for this, but what I could tell you is that she pre-judged me and decided unconsciously or consciously that either I could not afford her prices or that I was not there to buy. What was striking to me in this situation is that if the owner/manager is giving unacceptable service, what is left for the employees to do? Luckily for that owner, her staff has a natural dispensation towards service excellence.
A next thing that is irritating to customers is inconsistency throughout an organisation. If you are an organisation that has several branches, your service must be consistent throughout. Everyone must be speaking the same language. The only way to achieve this sort of consistency is to make your organisation’s culture, one that is heavily focused on people, not just your external customers. Your employees must be a big part of the culture that you want to create. You cannot give your employees bad service and expect them to give your customers excellent service – something is obviously wrong with that picture. Not having a culture of service excellence is costing your organisation big time, it significantly impacts your bottom-line. It cannot be just about giving your employees a one-time customer service training and expect a service culture to take hold. Training must be constant, as giving excellent service is a never-ending relentless exercise. Building a customer focus culture must be a top-down, bottom-up approach, it’s not about giving lip-service to service, management must see it as important before your employees see the importance.
Some people will buy from you out of necessity, but there are others who will just do without your product or get it somewhere else. There are some restaurants that I will not dine in, as their service has not only been consistently bad, but it has deteriorated. And then there are some that I go to, only because I know some of the servers. And I am not fussy, I just expect you to ‘woo’ my money out of my pocket. Let us not think for one moment that only places such as restaurants or retail establishments are affected when they give less than stellar service. The financial industry, as well as every other industry, is also heavily impacted. It does not matter what business you are in, it does not matter if you are a one-man show or a ‘many men’ show, you must make service excellence your top priority. In today’s business environment it is the only differentiating factor. Customers have a very strong voice, and they speak with their feet. What are you doing today to make your service count?
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Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company. www.goblueinc.net