Satisfying customers has become the driving competitive force in achieving the status as a successful organization. It doesn’t matter what type of company you own, work for, or operate, if you are not satisfying your customers then you are not retaining them. Having everyone in your company attain a level of great customer service will only translate into achievement of recognizable customer growth and loyalty in the long run.
In reading Steve Coscia’s HVAC Customer Service Handbook, I was able to pick out a few tips that should be practiced and shared within your company to improve the overall success of your business. Steve is a customer service expert, president of Coscia Communications Inc., and a 20-year customer service practitioner and telephone skills specialist. He divides his book into three sections: Practical, Tactical, and Virtual. Each of them covers crucial customer service techniques that should be a staple within your business work plan.
The Practical section addresses problem solving and handling difficult customers. Many times you will struggle to maintain a positive attitude when an unforeseen problem is presented to you. By having a poor attitude to the problem, more likely than not, your ability to think effectively on how to handle the situation will lessen. In this case Coscia suggests getting into character prior to arriving to work where you adjust your attitude and alter your mental frame of mind to handle problematic situations. "Being ready for anything means being prepared. Preparation is one of the behaviors that separate the professionals from the amateurs," says Coscia.
Let’s face it, no company is exempt from encountering a few setbacks, but what counts is how you handle the situation and prevent it from happening again in the future. Alure Home Improvements in Plainview, NY, and member of NARI, has developed its own philosophy when handling any customer problems or remodeling obstacles. "Our philosophy is to solve the problem first and work on preventing it in the future after the customer is made whole again." says Seth Selesnow, Director of Marketing for Alure Home Improvements. "Our ability to react and follow through is not only what we promise but what we deliver."
The second section that the book focuses on is the Tactical element. This outlines the different strategies of how to keep bad situations from escalating into something beyond your control. Being open and honest with customers is the key element in developing a strong relationship between the employee and the customer. Scott Eggert, CKBR, owner of Ohana Home Concepts in Fair Oaks, CA, and member of NARI, can attest that his company follows this rule. "Problems should never be minimized. The fact is that they occur. Our perspective is that what makes a great contractor is dealing with the problems. First we prevent; second we deal with them; thirdly we learn from them. Our model continually holds honesty and transparency as high priorities."
Another tactic included in this section is to not shift blame onto the customer. We all know that sometimes that old saying "the customer is always right" is not exactly true, but there is a simple way to recognize an error without blaming the customer. The answer is to use "I" instead of "You." As Steve notes in his book, "When customers feel like they’re being blamed, they become defensive. When this happens, customers become upset." Steve sites many different examples of how this tactic can be used. An example of an incorrect phrase could be "You didn’t do it correctly." A better way to word this would be: "I came up with a different result. Let’s look at this together." Just by changing the way you say something can really make the difference in establishing a positive relationship with the client.
The Virtual section addresses the importance of customer communication via voice mail and e-mail. It is important for customers to feel welcome leaving voice mail and e-mail messages, knowing that they will get a prompt response. Messages should only be left on your voice mail when you are away from your desk. If you are at your desk, then you should pick up the phone. As Coscia explains, "To reap the productivity benefits of voice mail, you must make callers feel comfortable about leaving you a voice mail message. Callers feel most comfortable when they believe, by past experience, that their call will be returned."
If your company has a history of not returning calls, the customers will be discouraged from ever leaving any future messages which can lead to the loss of their patronage. Debby Allmon, CR, Vice President of Schloegel Design Remodel in Kansas City, MO, and the project managers each have their own BlackBerry so that e-mail messages are quickly delivered. "Our design consultants are with the project and the client from the initial contact through the final walk through," says Allmon. "We want each of our clients to be a part of the Schloegel Customer Experience."
The bottom line is that improving your customer service skills will improve customer satisfaction, which will improve customer retention. By being educated on how to work efficiently with customers, relationships will be strengthened and trust will be established, which will give your company the competitive edge it needs to succeed in today’s marketplace.