Thursday, May 31, 2018

Customer Service: Do You Know Who Your Competitors Are?

Some years ago, I read a customer service article that resonated with me so much that I carry the concept with me as one of my core service truths. In fact, it has turned into the first question I ask in the initial meeting I hold with a new team, as it helps begin to establish our customer service strategy. That question is: Do you know who your competitors are? 

Initially, I get some puzzled looks and questions such as “Do you mean our corporate competition, or are we talking about competition for our roles?” We explore the question further, and I explain that I am referring to the companies that we’re competing with as far as how our customers view the service we provide. By customers, we are referring to everyone we serve…co-workers, vendors, and external customers. We’ll brainstorm for a bit, until someone asks “who do YOU think our competition is?” 

The answer according to that article is: Everyone that our customers interact with in their daily lives is our competition for their service, because those interactions set service expectations. The bank that offers them an intuitive interface for online and mobile banking, the free 2 day shipping with Amazon Prime, the instantaneous access to movies via whatever media streaming service they choose…they are all our competitors when it comes to how our customers perceive the service we provide. We’re even competing with the legends of customer service, Amazon and Zappos! They are influencing how customers are measuring us. That measurement may not be overtly acknowledged, but rest assured that it is happening. A bit overwhelming to think about at first, isn’t it? 

This isn’t to say that you have to try to mirror the service strategies of these or any other organizations. A meaningful service platform should evolve organically from a number of factors, including your culture, your leadership team, your customers, and your individual contributors. What you can do, however, is compare your service delivery methods to any organization that “gets it”, and ask yourself what improvements can be made. For example, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself:

  • How easy are we to work with? 
  • Are we providing the communication channels that our customers need?  
  • Do we empower our team members to proactively serve our customers?  
  • Do we “walk the talk” as leaders and as team members? 

Do we proactively seek feedback on a continual basis, and do we take action on that feedback in a visible and collaborative way?
Be careful not to assume that you know the answers. Call your service desk via the customer hotline…how quickly can you reach a live person? Visit your website and test how easy it is to find a real phone number or email address. Do you provide customers with a just-in-time satisfaction survey so they can provide immediate feedback on their experience, and are you actively engaged in open dialog on how to improve? If you have access to customer reviews or feedback from past surveys, what are they saying about their interactions with you? As Jeff Bezos once said “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make important aspects of the customer experience a little bit better.” Are you being a good host?

You may not be competing with Ritz-Carlton and Disney from a business perspective, but viewing them as such from a service perspective, can help drive awareness and alignment to your customers’ needs. Make that one of your core truths, and you’ll be well on your way to legendary customer service.

Customer Service Quote of the Day

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Follow the Leader", Featuring Michael Sherlock

What are some guiding principles you follow, when developing new leaders?

I believe the most important element to the development of a leader is their ability to practice engaged active listening. It is so easy to think that you have (or have to have) all of the answers. And many people rise to a leadership position because of their abilities in this area. But when you operate as if you are the only one with the answers, you do yourself, and especially your team, and incredible disservice.

In order to lead others, you must be committed to their professional development. And that means ensuring that they have the opportunity to solve problems, and make mistakes, without fear. You can guide them, support them and ease their journey, by three simple steps: 

  1. LISTEN fully, with your ears and your eyes 
  2. Help them to UNPACK the problem or challenge
  3.  Facilitate a SOLUTION that makes sense 
Rather than jump quickly towards an answer, use the "Tell Me More" principle of asking enough questions that your employee releases all key pieces of information. This requires patience on your part, and the mindset of an investigator. It takes more time, but is well worth the effort, especially when your employee works through the overall issue. Sometimes this process alone highlights that there really is no problem.

Once all the key pieces of information are brought to light, look at them objectively. Imagine a suitcase that was stuffed so full you couldn’t zip is shut, even if you sat on it. You have to take everything out to see if it can all fit if repacked. And sometimes that means leaving some things behind, like unnecessary emotions.

Finally, when all the facts are seen clearly, you can help guide your employee to a solution that makes sense. But let them see it, come up with it, and agree to their plan. You can still help guide and direct if their solution seems incorrect, but they opportunity to see a path for themselves will build their confidence and experience.

If you’ve always been the one who has the answer and makes the smart moves, how much will your team benefit from being able to show you what they are made of? And what will THEIR success mean to your own?

Michael Sherlock is a business writer, author, speaker and podcast host. As a Vice President of US Sales for two multi-national medical device companies, Michael has managed net revenue exceeding $50 million and managed as many as 500 employees at a time.

Mrs. Sherlock provides corporations and business leaders with engaging presentations and actionable strategies on leadership, employee development, customer experience, and sales transformation. In addition, Michael hosts the Shock Your Potential podcast where she highlights the best in leadership, sales and customer experiences. The Shock Your Potential Podcast is available via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and your favorite podcast apps, as well as online.

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