How to Improve Customer Service

By: Bob De Contreras


Over the past few months we have been running a series of articles on how management focus changes as companies evolve through the different growth phases.  This article applies to a company in any of the growth phases.

 Some companies talk about customer care, some say customer support and others customer service.  What ever you call it, you will not be successful unless you take care of your customers.  At one company I know the CEO mandated that on employee business cards, under the person’s title was another position description.  The business cards read something like Bill Warner, President/CEO, Customer Service Representative.  Yes, even the CEO’s business card said Customer Service Representative.  This was to make the point to the customers that they were very important.  It was also a way to be sure every employee was constantly reminded that customer care was the first order of business.

 What follows are some tips on what you need to have if you want a world class customer care program, some of the things you can say to calm an irate customer and some words that should never leave the lips of an employee when talking to a client.

 Four Key Principles for Customer Service Success

 Your keys to success lays in being able to thoroughly know all you need to know about your customer and filling their needs within reasonable bounds of time and effort. 

  • Expand your definition of service

  • Service should provide SATISFACTION

  •  Know what your customers expect?

  • They want the same as you – value and support

  • They need you to understand their needs

  • They want simple answers – not jargon  

  •  Know who is the customer

  • Anyone who calls you for help

  • Everyone you interface with, as a representative of the company

  • Internal contacts, as well as external buyers

  •  Develop a customer friendly approach

  • Over communicate

  • Build relationships

 Be a Customer Focused Company

 Without happy customers, your company will ultimately fail. It has to be given a high priority for resources to perform effectively. It is performed within the bounds of mutual respect for each other’s time and effort, striking a balance between customer satisfaction and resources spent achieving it. Being a customer focused company means: 

  • Customer Service personnel take ownership of customer issues

  • Employees know that customer service is a priority

  • Customer service training is a priority

  • Employee success is based on job performance AND customer support

  • Managers support the staff in fulfilling the customer service function

  • There is recognition for employees who provide quality customer service

  • Customer Service must be a part of the culture

 What Customers Expect When There is a Problem

 Don’t let customers guess about what to expect from you in service and support. Take the time to let them know from the time you achieve your first sale. Customer should expect: 

  • Responsibility

  • Vendor owns the problem

  • Customer has involvement and influence on the outcome

  • Friendliness

  • Courtesy and politeness from the vendor

  • Empathy

  • Vendor appreciates their circumstances (the impact of the problem)

  • Vendor LISTENS to customer

  • Fairness

  • Vendor provides adequate attention and answers

  • Alternative

  • Customer is given a solution choice and vendor provides flexibility

  • Information

  • Customer is given pertinent information in a timely fashion

  • Vendor does no selling

  • An Apology (works 50% of the time)

 How to interact with the Customer

 Your company’s behavior when confronted with a customer problem will really tell all about how you value customer service. Here are certain behaviors to instill in your service personnel: 

  • Act like you own the problem

  • Listen without interruption and with full attention

  • Behave without aggression, and without arguing

  • Do not make excuses for the problem

  • Thank the customer for drawing attention to the problem and helping solve it

  • Express sympathy and full understanding with the customer’s situation

  • Ask necessary questions to get more complete information and a complete picture of the situation

  • Find out exactly what the customer needs you to do for them

  • Explain first what you can do, and then gently add what you cannot do

  • Do what you committed – immediately

  • Check the result to make sure the customer is completely satisfied

 To be Viewed as Offering World Class Service

 Now that you have the basics, take the next step to really make a lasting impression. You want your customer to be satisfied, even though the situation is terrible, and you want them to remember what you did for them for a long time. Think about what it takes to: 

  • Surpass customer expectations

  • Go the extra mile

  • Delight the customer

  • Build long term loyalty

 Factors that Create a Negative Impression

 On the other hand, avoid your own bad behavior by remembering the following dissatisfaction factors: 

  • Making the customer wait

  • Not answering the phone promptly

  • Not saying “please” or “thank you”

  • Speaking loudly or condescendingly to the customer

  • Downplaying the problem

  • Focusing on another task while addressing or servicing a customer

  • Deflecting issues by joking

  • Blaming someone else for the problem

  • Interrupting or answering before the customer is finished explaining the problem

  • Offering an answer that does not fit the problem

 Words that should never leave the lips of the customer service person

 Further yet, avoid saying those things that are going to infuriate an already concerned customer. Saying these words is like throwing gasoline on a fire. 

  • “No.”

  • “I don’t know.”

  • “That’s not my job / that’s not my department.”

  • “You are right – that is bad.”

  • “Calm down.”

  • “I’m busy right now.”

  • “Call me back.”

  • “That’s not my fault.”

  • “You need to talk to my supervisor.”

  • “You want it by when?”

 Drive a customer crazy by saying:

 Showing how much you care by your very demeanor with the customer can make all the difference. Avoid these things thatl project an “I don’t care” attitude. 

  • “That’s not our policy.”

  • “That’s not my job.”

  • “I’m not allowed to do that.”

  • “I have no idea”

  • “You’ll have to wait for the next release”

  • “We didn’t test it for that”

 Customers will spend up to 10% more for the same product with better service.  When customers receive good service they tell 10-12 people on average.  When customers receive poor service they tell 20 people.  There is an 82% chance customers will repurchase from a company where they were satisfied.  There is a 91% chance that poor service will dissuade a customer from ever going back to a company.

Bailey, Keith and Leland, Customer Service for Dummies, 2001



Find out what your customers want,

How they like it,

And, let them have it.

Just that way!




How to Improve Customer Service Case Study

 By: Bob De Contreras


“There is only one boss, and whether a person shines shoes for a living or heads up the biggest corporation in the world, the boss remains the same.  It is the customer!  The customer is the person who pays everyone’s salary and who decides whether a business is going to succeed or fail.  In fact, the customer can fire everybody in the company from the chairman (CEO) on down, and he can do it simply by spending his money somewhere else.

 Literally everything we do, every concept perceived, every technology developed and associate employed, is directed with this one objective clearly in mind – pleasing the customer.”

                                                                                    Sam M. Walton, CEO Wal-Mart

 We seldom find CEOs or business owners who think and act like Sam Walton.  It’s a “see the forest for the trees problem.”  The CEO is so busy dealing with sales revenue, expense controls, competition, and more that a focus on customer support is often forgotten or neglected.

 But worse than that, many CEOs have not focused on the training of their employees.  So, even if there was a focus on customer service, employees are not getting the training they need to offer basic customer support.  The actions and words we use in a customer support situation are NOT intuitive, so more often than not, we end up making customer satisfaction worse by not satisfying our customer’s needs.

 Here is a real example from one of our clients to consider:

 Voice message in CEOs voicemail from CUSTOMER: “I have an issue I hope YOU can help with: we've been calling for about a month regarding a problem with [widget] number not formatted electronically. I just talked to SUPPORT, he told us it was finally fixed, but that we can't have the update yet – I won't get this fix until the next update and he doesn't know when that will be. I am concerned about that. I have several claims outstanding that need to get filed, I NEED THE MONEY. Is there any way to get the update sooner, preferably TODAY. I’m holding 38 claims because of this issue that I need to bill to Medicade.

   After hanging up with SUPPORT I discussed with SUPPORT2 the possibility of sending that fix today and he says it is possible?”

 SUPPORT’S response when asked about the call: “…I didn't want to lie to them or give them a false impression that they could have it sooner because I really didn't know…” 

  • Was SUPPORT responsive?  NO

  • Did SUPPORT tell the customer the status of that error fix? NO

  • Did the customer know the availability of the error fix? NO

  • Did the customer think they were going to get the fix? NO

  • Did the customer know when they would hear? Anything? NO

  • Who owned the problem? NO ONE

 All of these issues are fixable with employee training and proper implementation of consistent processes.  In this case we conducted a customer support training program and helped the company implement better processes.  The results were that customer satisfaction improved dramatically.

In another company we helped a particular customer service representative that did the following on a regular basis: 

  • Making the customer wait

  • Not answering the phone promptly

  • Not saying “please” or “thank you”

  • Speaking loudly and condescendingly to the customer

  • Downplaying the problem

  • Focusing on another task while servicing the customer

  • Deflecting issues by joking

  • Blaming someone else for the problem

 This individual had no idea that he was single handedly causing much of the customer dissatisfaction.   In this company the CEO did not put emphasis on customer support nor did he invest in employee training.  After some discussion the CEO was able to see the need for a customer support focus and employee training.  We conducted training sessions for the entire staff which the CEO also attended.  After several months of practice with the new techniques the CEO reported that he was receiving more thank you calls than complaint calls.  He said that was good enough proof for him that he had done the right thing. 

In both of these situations the customer satisfaction was improved by very simple focus changes and a small expense for training.  Don’t make the mistake of negatively impacting your growth because you are, “Penny wise and pound foolish.”


Brought to you by:                                                         [BACK]

            Bob De Contreras                                                  
            Rich Kramarik                                                     


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