Customer Service: How Do You Know What You Don't Know?

January 29, 2013

Customer Service: How Do You Know What You Don't Know?

Customer service is like singing. Everyone thinks they’re good at it. Few actually know what they’re doing.

The first thing that’s lacking with most customer service is feedback.

Whatever business you’re in, you have to know what you’re doing wrong to be able to correct it.

Nowadays, managers have to be on Facebook, and Twitter, and the other social media sites – so that they know what their customers are saying about them.

For instance, at Steiner Sports, we have a policy that all of our items arrive in the mail within 72 hours. But we didn’t always have that policy.

We used to get a lot of complaints on Facebook and Twitter that it took too long for our collectibles to arrive. Our customers make a lot of spontaneous purchases – they want the items right away.

They spoke. We were listening. So we instituted the 72 hour rule.

Similarly, twice a year we send an email survey out to all of our customers, asking how we’re doing. Each question only has three choices: a red light, meaning the customer needs to talk to someone ASAP; a yellow light, meaning things are okay, but we need to call that customer about an issue; and a green light, meaning we’re doing something very well.

Every business has to do this.

If you’re a doctor, are you getting feedback from your patients? If you’re a teacher, are you listening to your students? Customer service is a two-way street.

At the same time, it’s not just about communication and feedback.

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It’s about agency, too.

For instance, good customer service at Neiman Marcus doesn’t just mean that the salesman on the floor is knowledgeable about the suits I’m thinking of buying. It means that if the store doesn’t have the one I want in my size, the salesman has the tools to find it. The store has a computer that’s linked with all the other locations; the salesman can pick up the phone and call another store for it. Or he can order the suit, if it’s not available anywhere else. Good customer service means giving that salesman the agency he needs to get it right.

At a restaurant, good customer service doesn’t mean the waiters are polite and take special requests. They should do that anyway. Good customer service means that the chef is willing to cook to order, and that he has the right supplies to honor any special requests.

And it’s a top-down thing, too. The chef has to know what’s going on in the dining room. The managers have to know what’s going on on the sales floor, and in the warehouse.

I go down to the Steiner warehouse all the time, to see what’s being returned – and why.

If you want to actually be good at customer service, and not just think you’re good at it, the managers needs to listen to the employees and customers. The employees need to listen to the managers and customers. Information has to flow every which way, and everyone in the company has to have the power to make real changes.

Otherwise, you’re not singing. You’re tone deaf.

Is your company truly devoted to customer service? Does it give employees the right tools? Does it seek feedback?

Or is your customer service just lip service?

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