Who Owns the Customer?
Ever try to locate the customer service helpline on a website? If there is a phone number, it’s buried deep in the site, beyond email, live chat and robot chat. You finally find and call the number, understandably expecting to speak to someone prepared to help you, the customer. It’s “customer” service, right? Silly you! You may get a recording, soothingly assuring you that your business is important, and thanking you for the expected half hour wait and intolerable music which will occasionally be interrupted by the same cheery voice reassuring you of your valuable business and promising someone will be with you “shortly”. (Note: NOT, however, valuable enough to staff more representatives.) Or you get an offer to call you back sometime this month. If you’re super lucky, it gets answered by another recording with a list of ninety-six options, none of which address your problem, nor offer the option of a human voice. You find yourself stabbing the zero frantically while yelling, “REPRESENTATIVE!!!” over and over and over. The voice tells you it doesn’t recognize your request and disconnects you.
Your dogs hide under the bed.
Then- the Golden Ticket. You finally get a human being on the phone. You pour out your problem, only to be told you have the wrong department. You get transferred and voila! More music, more cheery voice and more wait time. And you just know that when you finally do get through, you’re going to have to pour out your problem all over again, word for word.
A fun way to spend a half day, no?
“Customer service” sometimes seems to be as much of an oxymoron as jumbo shrimp, working vacation or silent scream, like the one you made when you got transferred yet again. Yet at some level every business depends on customers- attracting and retaining them. For many businesses, their level of customer service may be their only competitive edge. Some version of “providing extraordinary customer service” is in most mission statements and marketing media. So what actually distinguishes the real deal from the wanna be’s?
It’s all about who owns the customer. In an organization truly committed to customer service, there’s no question. It’s everyone, or else your commitment to customer service is only superficial. Whether you’re on the loading dock or at the front desk, you are responsible for the care and feeding of the people who spend their dollars on your business’s services and products- dollars that eventually find their way into your paychecks.
Superficial customer service organizations focus their training, coaching and accountability on their frontline, customer-facing employees, the people whose jobs directly connect to the external customer. But what about the support they need from their colleagues?
I’ve conducted a program called “Internal Customer Service”, designed for back office staff, those employees who do not have direct customer contact. One of the first questions I ask is: “Who is your customer?” The usual responses include “I don’t wait on customers… I don’t want to deal with customers- that’s why I chose this job…customer service is NOT my job.”
There are actually two correct answers to the question. The first answer is: customer service is everybody’s job. It’s how you maintain a successful business. The second answer is that your customer may very well be internal- you provide service and support to the people who deal directly with the external customer. An organization is only as good as every single employee. If a customer contact person is unable to get accurate information or help from another department in a timely manner, it results in an unhappy customer, and everyone owns the outcome.
What are some things your organization can do to ensure that your standard for customer service is consistently experienced by your customers?
- Clearly communicate that customer service is everyone’s job and be sure that it’s in every job description.
- Define specifically what each person’s role is in providing customer service, both to external and internal customers.
- Include customer service in every performance review, and link rewards and consequences.
- Ensure that employees have the necessary knowledge and skills, and that training and coaching on customer service is company-wide.
- Share feedback, good and bad, to reinforce the right things and make adjustments as needed.
- Think like a customer. What do they look for? What are their needs and wants? What impediments create frustration? Use the information to inform your customer service strategy.
The last one is actually pretty easy. We’re all customers, and we’ve all had good and bad experiences.
Let’s figure out how to deliver on the promise of genuine customer service.