By now, you’ve probably heard all the business clichés about the importance of focusing on satisfied customers:
“A customer who’s had a bad customer experience will tell 20 people; a satisfied customer might tell five—if you’re lucky.”
“It costs five times as much to attract a new customer as to keep an existing one.”
“Less than 5% of customers will bring a complaint to your attention; for every one you hear, there are 19 you don’t.”
Ask 100 corporate CEOs if the organization they lead is customer-focused, and 100 will enthusiastically respond “Of course!” But are they really? More importantly, how can they find out for sure?
Surveys are fine—as a starting point:
Most companies survey their customers in some way, shape or form—formally or informally. After decades of forms, interviews and focus groups, studies have shown that in gauging a particular customer’s overall satisfaction, a single question is all that’s needed to provide a fairly accurate answer:
“Would you recommend us to your family, friends and colleagues?”
If the answer is “Yes,” you’re meeting or exceeding that customer’s expectations; if it’s not, it’s time to get to work.
Customer satisfaction starts deep in your company’s culture:
Your business’s “culture” is more than just an environment or a mission statement; it’s the way you and your associates go about your jobs each moment of every day, and it shows through in every customer interaction, no hatter how brief. It’s impossible to understate how critical these experiences are to your company’s profitability and longevity.
It’s easy to think of qualities most companies would like associated with their business in customers’ minds—trust, quality, respect, teamwork, integrity or even just “really, really nice.” But it takes more than just buzzwords to win and keep customers; these core values must be thoroughly embedded in all levels of your organization.
Make a list of the values you’d like your company to exemplify. Then, examine your current company culture and ask yourself if those values are apparent in your company and driving your everyday efforts. You’ll quickly see where work needs to be done.
Communicate with your internal customer base:
Before you can convince your company’s end customers of your focus on satisfaction and service, you need to convince an even more important customer audience—your internal customers, the employees who represent your company to the world.
Talk with all your employees—even the people who answer phones, empty wastebaskets or water the plants—about corporate values, and ask for input and suggestions. After all, it’s their company, too, and they often have valuable experience on the front customer lines.
It’s easier to hire values than to teach them:
Don’t wait until a person is already in your organization to start thinking about how their core values fit within your organization. You can teach specific skills, but you can’t teach a caring, positive attitude.
It pays immediate dividends to hire candidates who already have successful experience and portray the traits of quality customer service. Involve your employees in hiring decisions, and make sure to ask probing questions about more than just work experience and general capabilities.
Exemplify customer service from the executive suite:
Company leaders are important service-culture role models, according to Todd Youngblood, Managing Partner and CEO of the YPS Group.
“Customer focus begins at the top,” says Youngblood. “It can happen only with visible, passionate, relentless, commitment by the CEO. Lip service won’t cut it. Only when the troops see the real thing from the boss does it become possible to ensure a disciplined obsession by each employee on delivering steadily increasing value to each customer.”
Still, he stresses, “Even an obsession (with customer service) is only a beginning. It is necessary to create a feedback loop to ensure that your staff are always focused on the right things.”
If you measure it, employees will pursue it:
It’s important to have carefully defined, written standards for a customer service-centric culture. Don’t be afraid to keep raising the bar; after all, that’s exactly what your competition will be doing. By visibly measuring—and rewarding—superior customer service, you’ll establish it as a top priority in employees’ mindsets.
Take time to celebrate customer-service success—even if it’s just a single positive survey. By holding associates accountable for the agreed-upon standards, you’ll build a high level of trust—one from which your customers will ultimately benefit.
At the same time, it’s important to take advantage of “coachable moments” when employees occasionally fail to meet established standards. Don’t “blame-storm;” just analyze the situation and offer encouraging, constructive feedback.
Empower the front lines:
Perhaps the single most important measure you can take is to empower employees to become active players in the superior customer-service game. Give them the authority and resources necessary to handle complaints immediately, on their own.
In time, your employees may actually welcome the occasional complaint as an opportunity to improve service.
The bottom-line benefits of a true customer focus:
A true customer focus opens the door to a company’s growth, evolution and success in many ways, including:
- Increased lifetime customer value
- Maintained (or growing) profitability
- Deeper customer understanding
- Improved marketing mix
The telecommunications industry offers a great example. Increasing competition has dramatically slimmed the margins on several products, while new, higher-margin technologies have merged. While the industry’s products are needed to keep customers, its focus on products over individual customer segments has slashed its profitability. Only by basing business decisions on customer segments have telecom companies begun to maximize customer value and return to their former glory.
Customer service isn’t a slogan—it’s a way of doing business that permeates an entire organization. By establishing clear standards and setting proper examples, company leaders can engender a customer-focused culture of empowered employees and loyal, satisfied long-term customers.
For more information about pursuing a true customer focus in your organization, contact us at SurveyMethods today!