A couple of years ago, I was running a workshop at a major hotel in Sydney. Firstly, no-one at the venue was available to assist me with the room setup which had been done differently to that requested. Despite advising the venue beforehand of 55 people attending, at morning tea, they had set up only one coffee station which resulted in a very long wait for coffee. I also had to chase them up when food ran out at both morning tea and lunch. Eventually, the Function Co-ordinator made an appearance. When I told her what had gone wrong, I simply received a shrug of the shoulders.
Yes, we have all been on the receiving end of very bad customer service. We certainly know it when we experience it and gain some satisfaction from telling others of the experience. But if we receive great customer service, we love it and are certainly happy to repeat that story too. What stories are your customers saying about you?
Here are five areas to consider that can help you to take good service to great at your workplace.
- Make a great first impression: One of the best ways to make a great first impression is simply to respond immediately to customers. Answer the phone within four rings. Return calls and emails quickly. Greet people in a warm and friendly manner when they walk into your premises. Use their name if you know it. Making a great first impression is part of what differentiates great service from service where you feel treated like a number.
One doctor I know gives a warm greeting to new patients who are waiting. His secretary also makes them freshly brewed tea or coffee in nice china served with gourmet biscuits. All of his patients receive also a warm greeting from his secretary and a welcome pack which includes details of his services at his practice and also vouchers for discounted meals, hair-dressing, or massages with local businesses.
- Give customers a great experience. Can you anticipate what your customers are needing? If so, you might simply offer these things or ask how you can be of help. One lovely person in charge of catering who I dealt with recently while running a function in Canberra made a point of greeting me when I arrived in a friendly and personable way. She checked with me what had been arranged for catering and the break times. She also let me know how I could contact her if there were any difficulties. The catering, of course, was exceptional - with beautifully prepared and presented food provided on the day. I told her (and management) that she was the most pleasant and professional person I had dealt with in that hotel.
Management can do their part to help - communicating clear expectations, setting the right example, and providing training if needed. Most importantly, if management can help their staff to be happy at work, this will help create a positive and welcoming atmosphere. Customers can certainly tell if your workplace is a great place in which to work.
- Deal well with challenges when they occur. Customers do not expect us to be perfect, but they do expect us to take action when frustrations occur. Here we need to be prepared and clear about what we can offer to our customers - whether this be an explanation, some empathy, or some practical action by us.
Recently, when flying on Virgin Airlines, one of our children's car seats was snapped in half while begin transported. This could have gone very badly. Before we had a chance to become upset, we received a very genuine apology from Virgin staff, an offer to reimburse us in full for a replacement, and a loan safety seat we could have while on holiday.
- Exceed their expectations. Don't you love it when you go to a restaurant and they bring out some complimentary food for you to sample? Or you order a smoothie at your local cafe and they bring out some extra smoothie that was made in the process. One Janitor Groundsman I know at a local school makes a habit of leaving fresh flowers from the school grounds for the staff in their tea room. A business consultant I know always sends his customers a box of chocolates or a nice bottle of wine to thank them for doing business with him. What can you do to exceed your customers' expectations by doing something extra?
- Stay in touch. People who give great customer service know that it takes less effort to get repeat business from existing customers than it does to gain business from new customers. But to get repeat business takes at least two things. Firstly, the customer needs to have had a great experience in dealing with you. And, secondly, you need to have put in place some way of them staying in touch with you or you staying in touch with them. Out-of-touch can sometimes mean out-of-mind. You might stay in touch with your email newsletter. But there is also a personal touch where you give them a call and ask how they are going in relation to the product or service you have provided.
If they are happy, they will let you know. If they are not happy for some reason, that is still good as it gives you a chance to work things through. A speaking colleague of mine stays in touch by genuinely caring for her customers when they are dealing with challenges. Recently, she was aware of a number of her clients who were directly affected by natural disasters and made a point of calling them up, asking how they were, and offering help where she could. This is certainly great service.
You would think that great customer service would be important to everyone, but sadly it is not.
This is good news - as it only takes some smart thought and effort to stand out in your customers' eyes, resulting in them singing your praises and you feeling more proud of the work you do.