Great customer service is many things done really, really well. In this era of increased programmatic servicing, data-driven insights and automated interactions, it’s even more important -- and potentially a point of competitive differentiation --when you can implement excellent customer service. Customer service can go a long way towards maintaining the “positive bank account” that Stephen Covey spoke about for so many years. Personal relationships afford you more leeway and forgiveness when errors are made, and they strengthen the bonds established when things are going well.
There are many rules for customer service, but here are a few I find to be at the top of the list:
The cardinal rule of great customer service is to be genuine, honest and get to know your customers. Human beings, especially your clients, can smell a disingenuous relationship a mile away. They feel fake. When you’re speaking to someone who isn’t interested, that’s one of the worst feelings in the world.
We all get distracted, but when you’re with clients, you have to focus your attention on them and invest the energy and effort to make sure that relationship goes well. I used to frequent the Wells Fargo on California Street in San Francisco before we moved to the ‘burbs, and the customer service there was amazing! They knew my wife and I by name, and they even knew the names of our kids (routinely asking to see pictures of them). They screwed up our accounts all the time and in some rather dramatic ways, but we were forgiving because they had established an air of acceptable fallibility by being human and interacting with us as people. They would be open and honest, admit the issues, and resolve them. And then we would move on to the next thing. When they went out of their way to do something for us that was helpful, we always acknowledged it, said thank you, and kept going.
Getting to know your customers is important, and you can do so through personal interactions as well as doing a little research. LinkedIn is a great place to research your customers’ work history as a start. You can establish mutual connections to create common ground, which is the basis for any strong relationship. It’s also not as creepy as checking out their Facebook page, which is usually more focused on family and friends. Its better to start with people you know in common professionally, and then move on to personal common ground.
One of the other important rules of customer service is to know your stuff. When you’re servicing customers and they’re asking you questions, you should know your product inside and out. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect -- you can be wrong, or you can need time to determine the answer. This rule goes back to being open and honest about what you know. You do need to invest the time though, and learn the product. If you don’t offer a knowledgeable point of view, then you offer a poor representation of the company and brand you represent.
And when all else fails, remembering people’s name and thanking them for coming is a great thing to do. There’s a coffee shop in San Francisco just off the corner of 2nd and Harrison that is not well-named, but is run by the nicest, sweetest woman you will ever meet. She calls everyone who walks through the door “sweetheart” or “dear,” and if you visit with any kind of frequency, there’s a strong chance she’ll remember your order of choice. It’s a small thing, but it’s a differentiator. I stop by most Fridays, walking past Starbucks and Peet’s to give this little coffee shop my business. It’s the kind of place where they know your name, and they’re really glad you came.
Cheers and kudos to that.