How do managers know how customers are being treated? When you aren't around or within earshot, how do your really know how your people are responding to your customers? You don't. You can only rely on your example of customer service to live on through your staff's communication with customers.
Some customers wouldn't have to be calmed if they were not faced with annoyances to begin with. It is critical that you instill customer service concepts in your staff. So let's discuss what managers can do to create an environment conducive to continual customer satisfaction.
Creating An Environment For Customer Satisfaction
o Be a role model.
You must give more than lip service to the concept of customer satisfaction-you must practice it visibly and frequently. Sending staff to outside courses on customer satisfaction can be a waste of money if the manager does not model and reward good service.
o Ask for your staff's suggestions.
Your people often have good ideas to improve operations. But some don't feel comfortable making suggestions unless asked.
Use their ideas that make sense. And give credit for them. People resent it when someone else steals their credit.
o Solicit customer feedback.
There are several inexpensive ways to get feedback:
o Provide postage-paid return cards or surveys.
Make sure they're short and to the point. Have a place for the customer to write his/her name and phone number so you can call to clarify any information.
o Follow up with phone calls.
You could personally call five or ten customers each week to check on service. Don't call customers who you know love your company, but also some who haven't bought from you in a while.
o Observe service and ask customers what changes they'd like to see.
o Reward good customer-service behavior.
When a staff member does a good job, give her immediate feedback. Let her know what the customer said, or what you noticed that showed good service. Be specific: "I was glad to hear you offer Mrs. Olsen help with her packages."
Become familiar with the concepts of creating customer satsfaction so that you can reinforce behavior which calms customers, and counsel your staff when they are behaving in ways that are annoying to customers.
o Encourage your staff to use their initiative.
Give your staff the authority to act on the customer's behalf. Set a dollar-amount ceiling they can utilize without calling in their supervisor. Increase the ceiling as your trust of the staff member increases. This gives him confidence, and allows the customer's problem to be handled immediately, without being bounced around.
In a recent article in Frequent Flyer, Paul, Auger, vice-president of marketing for Midway Airlines says:
Employees now have the ability to resolve problems-whatever the problem is-without saying that our policy is "Write a letter to the president." For example, we tell our personnel we're not going to punish them for giving away a free ticket. We counsel them if we feel they're being overzealous. But as long as they feel they're doing it on behalf of the customer, the worst that can happen is that we say, "Gee, did you really have to go that far?"
o Don't talk negatively about customers.
"Mrs. Hanson is such a pain in the neck" teaches nothing. But "Mrs. Hanson is very detail-oriented. So make sure to check her invoices carefully before you send them out" explains your concern and what to do about it.
o Know when to fire a customer.
If a customer continually upsets your staff for trivial reasons, you may need to invite the customer to utilize someone else's services. "Mr. Pratt, it seems that we cannot meet your expectations for turn-around and acceptable number of rejects. Perhaps it would be better if you found another vendor who could meet your standards." Of course, if your organization is a utility, public agency, or government office, this is not an option for you.
When Managers Calm Upset Customers
The upset customer may be passed to you if your employee can't handle the situation, or if the customer insists on seeing you.
No only is there an urgent need to calm this customer, your staff are also listening and watching to see how you handle the situation. Remember, you are a role model.
Often the customer will seem calmer and more rational with you than with your staff because you are perceived as having more authority to do something about the problem.
On the other hand, your staff may have done something to escalate the customer's anger. You should be able to handle any situation if you remain calm and are aware of techniques for calming upset customers.
What if you blow it?
If you do or say something that annoys the customer further, and your realize your error in retrospect, discuss it at a staff meeting. Explain what you did wrong and either ask the group to suggest a better response, or tell them what you think you should have said or done.
A leader who is willing to admit errors, discuss them, and strategize corrections is a leader that will be respected. Don't be afraid of being vulnerable in front of your staff. If you talk about your mistakes and take action to correct them, you will have the respect of your staff.
Managing Upset Employees
Part 1: During the Incident
Whether she was right or wrong, it's important for you not to make your employee look foolish or incompetent. If she was right in what she told the customer, say so.
"Mrs. Wong, I'm sorry to tell you that your Blue Bird phone service allows you to receive discounts on calls made inside your area code between noon and 2:00 p.m. As Nancy explained, this is the reason for the calls at 2:08 and 3:32 being charged at the full rate."
If only you can make an exception to the policy your employee stated, tell the customer so. Emphasize that she was doing her job well.
If the employee was wrong, explain that there must have been a misinterpretation of policy. Emphasize his value in front of the customer.
"Yes, Mr. Jones, you are right that you shouldn't be charged for cashier's checks on your Senior Special account. Obviously, there was a misunderstanding about this. Bill here is one of our finest tellers, so I'm sure it was an oversight. At our next meeting I'll remind all our tellers. I'm sorry for your inconvenience. Of course, we'll waive the fee for your cashier's check. Is there anything else we can do for you today?"
Part 2: After the customer has left
Your employee may be shaken, angry, on the verge of tears. Allow her to retain self-respect and composure in front of her peers and the other customers. Let her take a ten-minute break so she can go to the lounge, restroom, or other quiet place to compose herself.
If at all possible, accompany her and talk to her about the exchange, listen to her vent her anger, and reinforce your support of her actions. When she's calm enough, discuss with her how she might handle the situation differently next time. (If she's very upset, postpone the discussion until another time.) Solicit her ideas before telling her yours. The last thing she needs right now is a lecture.
Part 3: Debriefing the rest of the staff
If the rest of the staff heard or saw the incident, it may be appropriate to discuss the scene with them. If it was a serious or physical altercation, debrief them as soon as possible, preferably at the close of that business day or shift. If it was less serious, discuss it at the next staff meeting. Be sure to discuss it with the involved employee beforehand and check whether this would be all right with him or her.
Recap what happened, then focus the discussion on what can be learned: what worked to help calm this customer, and what might be tried differently next time. Don't make negative remarks about the customer's behavior or character.
Customer satisfaction is essential to an organization's survival. Instill the value of this with your staff, recognize their commendable behavior, and teach them to think on behalf of the customer and you'll have an organization your customers will keep coming back to.
© 1989 Morgan Seminar Group
Rebecca L. Morgan, CSP, is a dynamic speaker and seminarist. This is an excerpt from her book, Calming Upset Customers. Additionally, she's authored the books TurboTime: Maximizing Your Results Through Technology, Life's Lessons: Insights and Information for a Richer Life, and Professional Selling. For information on her speaking services, books, and tapes contact her at 1440 Newport Ave., San Jose, CA 95125, 408/998-7977, 800/247-9662, fax: 408/998-1742, rebecca@RebeccaMorgan.com, www.RebeccaMorgan.com. Please contact Rebecca for permission to reprint or repost this item.
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