What is superior customer service?
All of us have had the experience of both excellent and terrible customer service. While we all know good or bad customer service when we see it, defining it presents a challenge as reflected by the many definitions sprinkled throughout this article. These definitions form a mosaic that contributes to a complete picture of what our clients want from us. The goal is to create loyal customers, and understanding the various components of customer service helps us reach the goal of a loyal client base.
Expand Your Definition of “Customer”
Before we explore the concept of “customer service”, it is important to understand who your customers are. The people or organizations that purchase your services are your external customers. For health care providers, it is the referral sources and patients who seek treatment and generate the revenue. External customers may also be insurance companies or other sources of payment that contract with your organization to provide services. Together, these customers are the life blood of your business and the real bosses. These traditional external customers are the focus of most customer service improvement efforts but if you focus only on them you are missing the bigger picture.
“One who aids or provides help to the purchaser of a good or service” (a)
Internal customers are the people inside your organization who are part of the team delivering services
– in other words, everyone in your organization from the Chief Executive Officer to the parking attendant. Without people taking care of each other within the organization, your business is less likely to take excellent care of your customers.
This focus on internal customers starts at the top. The leader of a customer‐ service focused organization ensures that each person in the organization understands the relationship between his or her job and the customer. Each employee is a link in the chain of superior customer service.
Market research clearly demonstrates the link between happy employees and satisfied, loyal customers. “When you have employees who refuse to go the extra mile (or even an extra two feet) to help a customer, you have a company that is in trouble.” (b)
Senior management sets the tone for building a customer centered organization by demonstrating respect for employees and the importance of treating internal and external customers well.
“Any communication that creates a good or bad impression” (c)
“I’m too busy to care you about.”
Have you ever thought or felt this way about a client or colleague? The pressure of the work place with long To‐Do lists can tempt us to forget that our job is taking care of the customer, not accomplishing tasks. By putting form before function, customers may be given the impression that they are an inconvenience instead of the all‐important foundation of your business. Do you roll your eyes when the phone rings? Sigh when a colleague asks for help with a proposal? You may be communicating unconsciously to that person that they are unimportant – a serious customer service mistake.
Superior customer service begins with the universal, basic tool that we all possess – a smile. It is the number 1 reason why customers like doing business in person (d). Whether in person or on the telephone, a smile demonstrates caring and emphasizes the importance of your relationship with your customer – external and internal.
“A positive, polite, caring and friendly attitude” (e).
Here is an easy way to measure your smile quotient. Keep a small mirror at your desk or near your telephone at work so that you can easily see your own face. Check to see if you are smiling when the phone rings or someone walks into your office. Your face reflects what you are feeling at that moment and that feeling will be conveyed immediately ‐ whether good or bad. While you should not have a foolish grin pasted on your face, smiling more often will improve your customer service skills and might even make you happier.
What are your customers’ expectations?
Health care providers assume that they already know what their clients expect – high quality medical and dental services delivered at reasonable prices. If you subscribe to this belief, then you will fail to differentiate your business from your competitors and will miss the opportunity to better understand those you serve.
“Excellent customer service (is) the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently exceed the customer’s expectations” (f)
Rather than assume that you know what your customers expect, ask them. Many health care providers distribute “Customer Service Satisfaction” surveys to their clients. What do you do with the results? Do you Implement change or ignore the information that your clients provide?
How does your organization manage complaints? Customers who complain are the best sources of feedback and if they receive prompt and professional responses, complaining customers are the most likely to remain loyal customers. This is not a theory; the research is clear that customers who receive proper responses to complaints are many times more loyal than customers who never complain at all.
In addition to customer surveys, other tools are available to help you dig down deep to uncover your customers’ expectations. Focus groups and in‐person interviews are excellent methods to learn more about your clients. Once you have expanded your knowledge of your customers’ expectations, communicate those needs to your staff (your internal customers) and arm them with insights and tools to meet those expectations.
Among the best – and easiest – things you can do for both internal and external customers is to communicate how your business is responding to their satisfaction survey responses. Tell external customers through newsletters and in person that “Based on our customer satisfaction surveys we are….” Clear communication is fundamental to superior customer service.
Specific, objective, measurable standards
Developing and implementing excellent customer service requires continuous commitment from top management so that the message saturates the organization that external and internal customers are the reason the business exists. It requires an in‐depth understanding of customers’ expectations and participation from all parts of the company. It is not the sole function of the “Customer Service Department”, ‐ unless you define the entire organization as the Customer Service Department.
“Customer service is a process for providing competitive advantage and adding benefits in order to maximize the total value to the customer” (g)
Set the goals and objectives for exceeding customers’ expectations and then develop specific, objective, and measureable standards that can be used to determine how well the company and individuals are doing to meet those standards.
For example, your health care organization receives 20 inquiries per day about your services but is only able to convert one out of those twenty potential clients into actual paying customers. What improvements need to be made to raise that conversion rate?
Figure out the answer to this key question, and then give employees the tools and training needed to improve the conversion rate. Reward employees who are able to improve their personal conversion rates and provide additional support for those who need more assistance to succeed.
Building a winning customer service organization is a challenging task but one worth undertaking. It can transform your organization, creating a motivated team that consistently delivers services that exceed your customers’ expectations. Those customers will continue to use your services and refer other clients. It is the way to a successful business.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”
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