Is customer service so purely subjective that it exists only in the eyes of the beholder? Or can the standards of good customer service be defined objectively and exist independently of individual customers and employees?
For many people, customers as well as employees, customer service can't necessarily be clearly defined. But people sure know it when they see it. Or at best, they'll give you a platitude like "It's being treated like you want to be treated," which may very well be true.
But how do you develop a training program to help employees become more effective dealing with customers if the definition of good service is so nebulous?
Is it that customer service defies definition because it is so warm and fuzzy that it must be experienced rather than quantified? Is customer service so purely subjective that it exists only in the eyes of the beholder? Or can the standards of good customer service be defined objectively and exist independently of individual customers and employees?
Whatever the best definition of customer service might be, most people know it when they see it or experience it. Customer service, whether good or bad, exists whenever there is customer contact or a "moment of truth." We know it when we go into a retail establishment and can't get a product related question answered.
We feel it at a restaurant when the staff's priority is with each other and not their customers. We sense it at a government bureaucrat's office when we can't get a straight answer to a simple question.
Those are good examples of what customer service is not. But how can you clearly define what it is. Here is one definition that works for many successful businesses: Customer service is every encounter between a customer and a business that results in a negative or positive perception by a customer. The perception will be either positive or negative (there is no neutral, because neutral is negative. More on this later) depending on whether the customer's expectations of the contact having been met, surpassed, or disappointed.
What is meant by "every encounter between a customer and a business" in the above definition? Obviously when customers encounter employees directly with a request or a need, there is a customer service moment, but what about the other myriad encounters a customer may have with your business? When they see or hear an advertisement in the mass media. When they overhear two of your employees chatting in the mall's food court? When they read a story about your business in the press. When an acquaintance mentions a recent experience at your business.
These are all encounters that can affect the customer's perception of your business, so they all fall within our definition.
This may cause some concern for those who are accustomed to thinking of customer service only in terms of face-to-face customer contact. But more and more businesses are anxious for any possible way to gain competitive advantage, and the most successful and forward-thinking are looking at every customer encounter as a service opportunity. So when we say every encounter we mean literally every encounter. Next week's column will look at additional "how to's" of great customer service.
Jan Kantor is a Southwest Florida business consultant and executive coach. For more information, or to contact him regarding workplace solutions, his website is www.jankantor.com.