Customer service is often seen as the cornerstone of a successful business. More often than not, it is the first and last thing that stays with customers, leaving either a good or bad aftertaste.
Despite knowing its importance, many businesses still have an incomplete understanding of what constitutes superior customer service and, as a consequence, their interactions with customers often leave a lot to be desired.
Here are some common myths about customer service that hinders a company’s effort to improve:
1. Customers always come first
Some businesses go by the motto “the customer is always right”.
While this is not wrong, organisations should reassess how strictly abiding by this philosophy can have a negative impact on staff and their morale.
Instead, managers should focus on putting their employees, especially those who deal directly with customers, first.
After all, the employees are the ones shouldering the responsibility of projecting a positive image of the organisation.
In knowing that their organisation cares for them and stands by them, employees will in turn have the right frame of mind and the resources they need to care for customers, thereby elevating the level of service offered.
Entertainment giant Disney captures the importance of internal customer service with their service slogan, “Happy customers start with happy staff”.
Because of this inseparability of production and consumption of services, service delivery is characterised by interactions between customers and service staff in the servicescape.
Businesses that do not value their own employees and constantly place customers first will find themselves facing an uphill task in improving their level of customer service.
2. Customer service is a cost centre
More often than not, and perhaps more so for certain industries, customer service is seen as an unnecessary need to allocate more resources and time to sell a product.
However, research has proved that businesses spend more resources acquiring a new customer than to retain a recurring one through good service.
It is for this reason that companies need to view customer service as a potential wellspring of innovative thinking and profits.
Developing the best, most well-equipped front-line workforce is critical to customer-service success because these contact employees are a great source for innovative customer service and can have the biggest impact on customers.
Customer service should be viewed as a profit-generating activity and an important contributor to shareholder value, rather than just a cost centre.
3. Customer service is better when relegated to organisational silos
Customers often see a small part of the service delivery process, and although not every member of the firm deals directly with the end customer, each job is important in ensuring quality service being delivered well.
Internal marketing theorists have argued that it is impossible for businesses to provide better service to external customers than they provide to their employees or internal customers.
Excellent service is often the result of teamwork rather than the result of one outstanding individual. It is the result of the actions of interdependent groups of employees who work cooperatively to achieve service outcomes.
Frontline employees who feel supported by a backroom team will be better able to maintain their enthusiasm and provide quality service.
The responsibility for customer service should therefore lie on the company as a whole, involving not only the contact employees, as this allows the service encounter to run smoothly.
Organisations whose back-office infrastructures are not aligned to fulfil their service promise create a credibility and delivery gap.
The more employees perceive support from the management, the more they are committed to their organisation.
4. Good service staff do not need leverage to serve customers better
Service is not a standalone entity in an organisation. Because of its universal role in generating profit and contributing to shareholder value, the performance of contact employees depends heavily on the overall environment that they are working in.
Even the best service staff will require resources and the organisation’s support to help them perform their job better.
For instance, providing simple directional cues or signage in a service environment will enable customers to perform simple tasks on their own, without having to activate the service staff. This allows service staff to focus on other customers who may need more assistance.
For more complex services, rather than having service staff provide detailed explanations for every customer, organisations can instead prepare customer handbooks — which allow customers to go through in detail at their own pace and approach service staff only if they need clarification.
Such simple implementations go a long way in alleviating the demands that service staff face on a daily basis, improving their productivity and the service levels.
5. Good service is a one-way street
There is little doubt that customer service employees are an important part of the service process.
However, it is in no way a one-sided effort, as customers are an important part of the service process too.
Customer participation can raise an organisation’s productivity and improve its service performance.
For instance, by providing vital and accurate information in a timely fashion, customers can also help service employees deliver a more efficient and accurate service.
Few customers realise and understand that positive customer behaviour begets positive service, and the process of educating them is important.
Customers may sometimes be unreasonable when it comes to their expectations or demands, as they are the ones paying for a particular product or service, and may treat their service staff with less respect than they deserve.
Good customers are the ones who understand that the outcome and level of service they receive is also dependent on how they treat the service staff.
When there is customer cooperation and involvement, and the customer treats the service employees with respect, then the employees feel more confident of delivering great service.
In summary, service employees play an important role in shaping customers’ perceptions of the service encounter.
When customers are served by motivated employees, they are likely to receive higher-quality service.
An organisation’s managerial strategies and initiatives should focus on equipping and supporting service employees to achieve the desired service performance.
Article by Seow Bee Leng, the principal trainer of Continuum Learning. She has wide service training experience with corporations, academic institutions and non-profit organisations. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.continuumlearning.com