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Education Article :: Respect The Customer

Written by Brad Patterson

When you hear the term "customer service," what is the first thing that comes to mind? It might be a good experience, a bad experience, or possibly the reputation of a particular brand or organization. All of these can and do form the expectations for our customers. Getting less than what is expected creates a gap, and therein lies the frustration. Customers get upset when they don't get what was promised, someone was rude to them, they perceived an attitude of indifference, or no one listened to them. They want you—and, regardless of your title, at such times you may represent your entire company in their minds—to listen, to take responsibility and ownership of correcting the problem or issue, and to pay attention to the details.

Regardless of the industry, product or service, a company's reputation for customer service is only as good as their least satisfied customer. I have always created my customer service cultures based on a slogan borrowed from a major overnight delivery service provider: "Treat every package like it is your own." It is a simple yet effective philosophy, and it can be modified and applied in any organization. In conjunction with the philosophy, identify the essential traits you want teammates providing customer service in your organization to have. For me those traits are: friendly, intelligent, informed, responsive, supportive, and resourceful. Set expectations for the employees providing the service and hold them accountable to meeting them in every customer service opportunity.

Just as the individuals with the traits listed above are important, so is the structure in which they work. So many companies today rely on phone menus as the first point of contact and multi-tiered models for problem resolution. I am not a fan because often times I find myself talking to numerous people and telling each one my story before finally connecting to a person who can resolve the issue. Or I will have been promised something by the first person I talk to, only to eventually hear on my customer service adventure, "I apologize for you being misinformed." Since my expectation is to treat every customer service opportunity like it were my own, these types of models just do not work for me. If at all possible, have the first point of contact in your customer service model be a subject matter expert and someone empowered to resolve the issue. Remember that your service reputation is only as good as your least satisfied customer.

Another attribute I insist on being engrained into my customer service culture is education. What do I mean by that? It is not always possible to have the first point of contact be the subject matter expert or the individual who can resolve your issue. The larger the organization, the more complex the reasons for this challenge become. In my profession, commitments or promises made by others cannot always be fulfilled due to legal or regulatory requirements. Work to keep the customer service experience as positive as possible by educating your customer as to why something cannot be done. Spend the time necessary to help them fully understand what you did or did not do and why.

There will be occasions that can not be avoided when an answer is not known or a resolution cannot be immediately found. If so, then the best response is to be honest and simply say "I don't know." Do not provide an answer that you hope is right or one you hope will pacify the customer. Set the expectation as to when you think the issue can be resolved and keep the customer updated as soon as possible if that expectation cannot be met. If they do not hear from you along the path towards resolution they can only assume the reasons why and most will not be good. One of my favorite sayings (author unknown) is "To my customer. I may not have the answer, but I will find it. I may not have the time, but I'll make it."

While brand loyalty is still important to some, I believe more and more people are migrating towards those organizations that have figured out that customer service is the differentiator. Our customers are using the Internet like never before to review our products and services as well as our customer service. The old adage (author unknown) holds true: "If we don't take care of our customers, someone else will."


Brad Patterson, CPP, has been a payroll professional for nearly twenty years. He is currently the Corporate Manager – System Payroll for SSM Health Care based in St. Louis, Missouri.