Sunday, February 26, 2012

Customer Assistance The Way to Serve Your Customers

"The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing." ~John Russell, President, Harley Davidson

In 12 years of writing this column, I have probably talked more about customer service than anything else. Given some quiet time, I determined that I have focused so heavily on this issue because customer service is just so visible, not only to a business' customers in general, but also to me. I witness so many examples firsthand - both good and bad - that it makes sense I would continue to cover this important topic.

Most of my writings on the subject have been based on some personal experience, ranging from the great customer service at the Ritz-Carlton to the many, many disastrous examples I've witnessed elsewhere. I am continually trying to get management to devote more time and effort to this area. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not.

I think, in many ways, the problem originates with the term itself. "Customer service" is such an overused and cliche term, and quite honestly, it is often linked to negative experiences. Case in point, I recently had some problems with my laptop and, when their customer service inevitably failed to be of assistance, they kicked me to the customer relations department. The term "customer relations" also had me a tad concerned, especially after having been turned away by their customer service department.
My point here is that these terms have just lost their value as customers have become numb to them.

Most customers call a business for help, not "service." They just want help! Customers just do not know what "service" means as it is such a broad term. Alternatively, a "customer assistance" department really resonates much better because it references exactly what they are after.

So often when calling a business for assistance the person on the other end of the line responds with a somewhat cold, "What number are you calling for?" or "What is your account ID?" A much warmer, more welcoming alternative is "How may I help you today?" Hearing this friendly offer of assistance leaves the customer with a much better feeling, but so many businesses just seem to forget about how important the greeting is to the overall experience.

Another reason I think we see customer service on the decline is that it is such a broad term. It is sometimes difficult to improve something if it has not been defined well. "Customer service" covers such a wide assortment of issues that it can be very illusive and tough to pin down. Before you can begin to improve your customer service, you must first be able to define it.

Employees must have precise methods of dealing with customer issues, and while it convenient to lump all problems under a very general umbrella, this ambiguity does nothing to identify what the customer really wants when they contact the business. Put in the plainest and simplest of terms, they want help.

Now go out and consider renaming your customer service department your "customer assistance" department. I promise that as a result, your customers will receive much better service.

You can do this.

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