Would You Do Business With You?By: Eric Fraterman
If more company presidents and their senior managers asked themselves this question with the customers' view in mind, many would answer "probably not." The reason? Customer service.
Much has been said, done and written about customer service during the last decade. Millions of dollars have been spent on programs, training and systems. However, the results have been disproportionate and often outright disappointing.
In a recent issue of Fast Company, the cover story declared "Betrayed! The biggest lie in business is 'the customer is in charge' ... How could an idea so right go so wrong?" But surely, you may say, every company wants to delight its customers. That may be true, but while bold promises have been made, bad results have been the reality. The issue is not that service is poor, but that the promised and necessary "great service" is harder than ever to deliver!
Michael Hepworth, in a Canadian Marketing Association publication, provides some facts in support of the Fast Company report:
However, a good system does not equal good service. The European Centre for Customer Strategy predicts that future CRM effectiveness will be assessed less through hard measures and more through the stories people tell about a company. This means companies must give the customer distinctive service experiences so they will become advocates, telling stories to their friends and colleagues.
Only if your people are 'turned on' will you generate such legends!
The disappointing reality is that the human element is frequently overlooked at the expense of the systems challenges. Enduring and real customer service success requires a passion for people — both employees and customers. Author Jim Clemmer observes, "Too many managers treat 'their people' as assets with skin wrapped around them." Debra Fields, president of the highly successful Mrs. Fields Cookies, expresses the flip side: "Customer service does not come from a manual or a system — it comes from the heart. When it comes to taking care of the customer you can never do too much and...there is no wrong way if it comes from the heart!" In other words, we need a balance between managing things from the head and leading people from the heart. While rational strategy is essential, emotional intelligence accounts for as much as 70% of the personal and organizational success factor.
The fundamental problem is that most business leaders are not "pathological" about customer service and do not believe passionately in it as a key differentiator. One of my clients (a president who used the word "pathological" in his communications and speeches about customer service) was successful in making service excellence happen and royally reaped the commercial benefits. He did not just make the rational strategy case for it, but he lived it from his heart. Unfortunately there are too few leaders like that. For many, the distance between head and heart is far greater than the typical 16 inches — and therein lies the root cause of customers' continuing disappointment with the service they receive.
But if the customer is king, why are so many companies still behaving like republicans instead of royalists? There is often misalignment between the people and the systems in place to manage them. The challenge for today's business leaders is to put their people front and center; to pursue short-term results while continuously aligning technology, work processes and structure around the people to enable them to become customer-focused in all aspects of operation. After all, a sharper customer focus means a sharper competitive edge.
There are two lessons in this:
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