Paying Attention to Customer Service Pays Off
The newsletter "Quality Assurance Report" stated that only when a company knows: 1) exactly what kind of service its customers expect; 2) delivers on those expectations 100% of the time; 3) at a price that customers are willing to pay; 4) while still getting an acceptable return can the company claim to excel in customer service. Northwest Delta Dental excels in the customer experience and enjoys an impressive annual profit. They've known for years that customer service doesn't cost... it pays!
Each year I interview Northeast Delta Dental. They are the region's most trusted name in dental insurance for companies of all sizes, individuals, and families in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, administering dental benefits for more than 920,000 people. The company is led by President and CEO Tom Raffio who, for 26 years, has pursued the customer service strategy. Most firms become bored with customer service after a few years, move on to another strategy, and give up the market share and market dominance they had achieved.
This company has a set of practices that helps them manage customer experiences in a proactive and disciplined way. They got rid of stupid rules and practices. This helps keep bad experiences from getting out the door, and helps employees assist in creating innovative approaches that will have a profound impact on the customer experience.
All my research shows that a firm that builds a brand around the customer experience will increase their value by more than 100%. When you lose your focus (maybe you just got tired of the focus), you will lose your value just as fast. Most top executives have no idea of the financial power of driving a service culture. There are a number of principles and practices I believe in and preach in this area.
- You are in the customer service business. This is a mindset and paradigm switch. Very few firms realize they are in the service business.
- Use technology to increase speed and keep prices very low.
- Value your employees. This is rare for most firms, but a must for service leaders.
- Use price to drive business, but build it around service.
- Be a great place to work.
- Attract high-performance employees. Don't settle for adequate. Look for the cream of the market, that 1 out of 50 or 100 who excels.
- Recognition, not money, drives performance.
- The marketplace values a service leader.
- Know your customer. Knowing your customer's purchase and support history can help you solve problems and identify opportunities. Technology has provided companies with the ability to sell their products and services to millions of people throughout the world, but it is the human touch that improves the customer experience. And it is that experience that will build loyalty and drive your business.
- Speed. Taking too much time to assist your customers can lead to... frustrated customers. The shorter the time to purchase and satisfaction, the happier the customer.
- Personalize the experience. Customers love convenient and personalized responses to their problems and questions. If they are only getting generic information, they are more likely to become frustrated ex-customers. It takes just seconds for a customer to tell if you care. Frankly, it does not take additional time to be nice. Too many firms believe this is customer service. Everyone has the right to expect courtesy from you. On-the-job practices of courtesy are an important part of everyone's role to signal respect. The more you give, the more you care.
- If you say you'll do it -- do it! Not delivering what you said you would at the time you said you could can cost your organization long-term business. Customers have the right to demand performance. They aren't interested in your problems and excuses. We constantly need to ask ourselves, "Is our performance resulting in satisfied customers?" A good guideline is, "Don't promise what you can't deliver, and deliver what you promise."
If you want to succeed, roll up your sleeves and do the work of building your customer experience. Don't become irrelevant to your customers. In companies with comprehensive, highly professional service strategies, I suspect that service adds more to their bottom-line results than research and development, capital improvements, or any other strategy.
Again... customer service doesn't cost, it pays.
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