Engaging Ideas Newsletter • Fall 2010 • Volume 9, Issue 1 Topic of the month: Customer Service Excellence

Customer Service
As the economy continues to recover, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are providing excellent customer service. Customer service plays an important role in customer retention, increasing market share, and efficiency. All of these elements can help your organization take advantage of the improving economic conditions. In the following articles, we will explore several different aspects of customer service. We encourage you to share these articles with team members and colleagues.

Asking for a Referral

Existing customers are spending less. Leads are coming in slower. It takes a much longer sales cycle to close a deal. Referrals can truly help at a time like this! How do you ask for a referral without seeming pushy or aggressive? You want to maintain a good relationship with your customer, and you want to create win-win-win scenarios. Having a simple, conversational process in place to ask for referrals helps you know what to say and how to say it. When you feel hesitant, just remind yourself of the benefits of asking -- and then just ask.

Follow this five-step process to ask for referrals:

Step One: Remind the customer of the specific benefits you have provided.

If you know how your organization has helped the customer in the past, you should be able to easily produce those benefits. Paraphrase some results the customer mentioned to you or talk about the business benefits your organization has brought to the customer. Ask for their agreement, in a conversational way.

Step Two: Describe your customer profile.

Briefly describe the range of challenges your customers have faced and the benefits they receive from your company. This may remind your existing customer of opportunities they are missing. It will also help them start thinking of other people who may be a good fit for the referral.

Step Three: Identify a benefit for giving a referral.

How could your current customer (or anyone) benefit from referring this person to you? Identify the value it creates for your customer -- not their company, the prospect, or you. Try to honestly see things from their point of view and make it worth their time.

Step Four: Suggest that they already know someone.

Provide examples of people or job positions that could benefit from your offerings. Make it easy for them to think of a good referral. If you have a specific person or people in mind, mention them by name. Give a variety of names and positions, and talk slowly so the person has a chance to think. Listen carefully when they respond.

Step Five: Ask for an introduction.

Ask your contact if they are willing to give you an introduction before you contact the referral. This will help make the process friendlier and will open the door for you with that contact. Consider asking them to send an email, make a phone call, or introduce you personally at a networking event. You could even suggest a conference call.

Step Six: Follow Through.

Before you reach out to this new contact, you might want to conduct some additional research to make certain you have value to offer that individual or organization. This allows you to put your best foot forward with your contact. Research on the person, the organization, and the industry can save everyone valuable time.

Creating Loyal Customers

 Sixty-eight percent of customers leave because of what they perceive as indifference from the merchant or someone within the merchant's organization. They feel unappreciated, unimportant, and taken-for-granted. (Source: Research by Dan S. Kennedy)

Today's customer is more educated, better prepared, and has more alternatives than at any other time. Given the complexity of the marketplace, it is not enough to merely satisfy your customers. You must turn them into fans, who will not only remain loyal to your product or service, but who will spread the good word about your company. You need to exceed expectations, show customers you care, and provide exceptional customer service. You need every good word you can get in this turbulent market!

Challenges to achieving high levels of customer focus and loyalty generally fall under one or more of the following areas:

P Process: How your company or organization operates on a daily basis. This includes how your company communicates and aligns the features and value of the product or service with your customers' expectations.
R Roles: Who does what in your company or organization? Your employees must agree on tasks and responsibilities and hold employees accountable to those priorities.
I Interpersonal Issues: How your customer service personnel get along with each other and with other departments. This includes their attitude, teamwork, and loyalty.
D Direction: How your company defines and communicates its overall and departmental vision and mission.
E External Pressures: In addition to market conditions, other sources of pressure include the availability of resources such as time and money. You may or may not be in control of the availability of these resources.


Keys to creating top-notch customer service are: BE SURE!

B Broad product knowledge through insights into what your product or service can and cannot do.
E Extreme desire to help. Show your goodwill, passion, and eagerness to please.


Sincere interest in your customer's situation. Don't assume the customer is simply being unreasonable when they may have a very good reason to be upset.
U Understand customer expectations, which may be extremely demanding in these challenging times.
R Respect for the customer's point of view.
E Empowered with authority to provide answers, solutions, and any other help.

Resolving Customer Complaints

 Complaints are a necessary part of doing business, and you can expect even MORE complaints in today's market. Customers are becoming increasingly choosy about how they spend their limited available cash. When they make a decision to purchase a product or service, they expect excellent customer service to accompany that purchase.

Some people who complain will be difficult to please, but if your company can develop a consistent procedure employees can use for resolving complaints, you are one important step closer to assuring that you deal with the emotional and practical aspects of customer service. These seven steps should form the core of your customer complaint resolution process.

1. Greet
Always answer the phone or greet people in person as though you are happy to hear from them. Begin in a friendly way. This first step can be more difficult than it sounds. You need to be able to separate previous negative customer service and daily life experiences from your present customer contact.

2. Listen
In customer service, you often hear the same kinds of complaints, so it can be challenging to give each customer's complaint your full attention. If you can truly listen, however, and give each customer an opportunity to vent some frustration, your customer will appreciate the special attention. Be empathetic. Listen for facts and feelings. Show signs of active listening.

3. Questions
Ask questions to clarify your customer's concerns. Again, you need to resist responding until you understand your customer and their issues -- even if you're familiar with that type of concern. Use these three types of questions to gain a comprehensive understanding of your customer's issue.

  • Elementary questions capture the basic facts of the problem. These questions give you an opportunity to take some of the emotion out of the customer's experience and complaint.
  • Elaborative questions gather more details. These questions give the customer a chance to expand on their issues and feelings. These questions should be relatively short but inquisitive to encourage the customer to talk more about their concerns.
  • Evaluative questions help you determine how severely this issue effects the customer. This is also where you evaluate what you can do to satisfy the customer.

4. Empathize
Find a point of agreement with the customer. This does not necessarily mean that you agree with the complaint, but only that you are able to find a common ground. This is where you show the customer that you heard and understood their concern and that you recognize that this issue is important to them.

5. Address the Issue
Now that you have addressed and helped diffuse some of the complaint's emotional issues, do everything in your power to resolve the practical aspects. Take responsibility for your organization's role in the customer's dissatisfaction. This is your opportunity to turn a lemon into lemonade. People who have their problems successfully resolved tend to choose to do business with those companies again.

6. Test Questions
Ask questions to test how well you have resolved the emotional and practical sides of the complaint. If the customer is satisfied with the resolution, this will make it easier to end the experience on a positive note.

7. Follow Through
Often, complaints cannot be resolved completely on the first point of contact. If you need to get back to the customer, do so quickly and be thorough in your response. Even if the complaint has been resolved, create a reason to contact the customer again. For example, find a way to offer added value to the customer's experience with the company. Also, look for ways to solve the root cause of problems within your organization. If you can solve some root causes of common complaints, you will experience fewer complaints.

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