Last weeks’ column focused on the definitions of customer service. Today, we’ll look at additional strategic and tactical steps you should put in place to remain competitive in today’s marketplace.
Why is this important? Because for many businesses, customer service is their only competitive advantage.
Neutral is negative
“Customer service is every encounter that results in a negative or positive perception by a customer.”
Sure, that makes sense. If the customer has an encounter that leaves them with a negative or positive perception, it’s easy to see how that can affect your business.
But what about those encounters that are neither? Encounters that barely make it onto the mental “radar screen” of the customer because they’re essentially neutral.
A restaurant serves a satisfactory meal at a fair price, with a polite wait staff. A clerk provides requested information. The “clearance sale” items ring up correctly at the cash register. These are all encounters that meet your expectations and don’t alter your perception of the business in either a positive or negative way.
But when it comes to customer service, neutral is negative because customers aren’t experiencing your business in a vacuum. Every day they’re having customer service “encounters” with many other businesses — some (many?) of whom want to lure them away from your business. And these competitors know that a customer who has had a series of neutral encounters is ripe for the picking when they experience even a single, extraordinary, positive encounter.
So for the purposes of our definition we think of all customer encounters as being positive or negative, with neutral of course being negative. Which means every customer encounter is a service opportunity. And the goal is to make every encounter an experience that alters their perception of your business in a positive way.
Admittedly that’s a tall order continuously exceeding expectations but it’s one of the few ways left to create and maintain competitive advantage.
Bringing the definition to life
Managers and employees who truly understand the implications of this definition have a heightened awareness of the impact they make with every customer encounter. They realize that every face-to-face meeting, whether or not there is an actual request or transaction, is an opportunity to enhance the customer’s perception. Every telephone call. Every email. And often this awareness alone is enough to begin to make a difference, although training and reinforcement is usually necessary for permanent change to take hold.
The most immediate result is increased customer loyalty, which leads to greater profitability. But the benefits of bringing this definition to life within your organization reach far beyond the current customer.
New customers are more likely to be drawn away from competitors. Employees are more likely to feel “connected” to customers and experience greater job satisfaction. And managers will spend less time putting out customer service “fires” and more time creating positive customer encounters themselves.
Again, this is a tall order for any business, but it’s one of the few ways left to create and maintain an edge in today’s highly competitive business world.
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.