Build a Winning Customer Service Strategy

Providing great customer service can be a daunting task, especially for smaller brands who, due to the advance of eCommerce availability, are forced to compete with mega-brands like Amazon, Nordstrom and Apple. While there are many generalizations about what it takes to provide this level of service, the following list was curated by Customer Experience specialist Micah Solomon for Forbes. You can access the piece by clicking here, or by reading below: 

This piece was originally published by Forbes on January 21, 2017.

“The customer service “wow” examples that you read in business books and hear from customer service speakers and consultants are often taken from premium brands: five-star hotels, Nordstrom, Apple, REI, Mercedes-Benz, or from companies with decidedly unique resources, such as Amazon. I know that I’m as prone to this as anyone; even when I’m ask to be a keynote speaker in a more specialized area, like patient satisfaction and patient experience in healthcare,  I default to sharing examples from healthcare organizations like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, which have storied histories and significant resources at their disposal.

If yours is a company with more modest means, I don’t want you to let yourself off the hook when you hear examples from such well-heeled companies, thinking, “with the limited resources here, we could never provide that level of customer service here–so why even make an effort?”

I’d argue that just because you’re not a super model doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wash your hair, stand up straight, and eat right; and just because you’re not Nordstrom doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a customer-friendly returns policy; and just because you’re not Mayo Clinic doesn’t mean you can’t adopt a brilliant customer/patient-centered philosophy like theirs (“The needs of the patient come first”).

Remember, these venerable brands didn’t initially command the kind of resources they have today. Neither the Mayo brothers nor the Nordstrom brothers nor Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began their organizations with the kind of resources and advantages that you associate with their companies today.  Rather, they started with what they had and they learned to make the most of it.

What follows here are five principles that will help you to do the same: to do your best in customer service and the customer experience, no matter how limited your resources.

1. Level the playing field with off-the shelf options. For example, if you’re a small-scale retailer, you don’t have the technological backbone of a Nordstrom, whose in-house team can fully customize Nordstrom’s point of sale (POS) systems in a way that your company cannot. But you can purchase off-the-shelf solutions that will similarly stop the traffic jam at the register, by allowing every employee to take on the duties of a cashier. If you’re competing with Amazon (as so many of us are), although you can’t develop your own inventory-tracking systems in-house as they have, you can find alternatives that will provide the level of transparency that customers, who have been “trained” by their experiences with Amazon, are now demanding. [Some of my clients have found success leveling the playing field in both these areas via the retail and online solution offered by Accumula.]

2. Hire scientifically. It may not be easy to hire the best employees if you’re struggling to pay the market price for talent, but using the right methodology will help. Without great employees, you can’t provide great service. You may, however, be able to get by while slightly short-staffed, at least temporarily; it’s better to let a position sit vacant in the customer-facing part of your organization than to fill it with someone who’s not up to snuff in the ways that matter. [Here’s an article of mine  that lays out how to select (hire) employees for customer service and customer-facing positions.]

3. Create and schedule a routine that reinforces and sustains high service levels. Start a daily, or, at the least, weekly, “huddle” where your employees and leadership can share best practices, discuss how they overcame customer service hurdles, and, perhaps most of all, celebrate customer service victories. It’s not always what’s measured that improves; it’s what’s celebrated. The greatest organizations have become great in part by building into their schedules opportunities to celebrate employees when they go the extra mile for customers.

4. Do everything in your power to make the relationship personal with your customer. Don’t overlook a big advantage that you may have over your larger competitors: the ability to keep your relationship with customers personal. I don’t mean faux-personalization (Dear [fill-in-the-blank], we appreciate your visit with us on [fill-in-the-date]), but actual, authentic, personal communication and interaction. Let your customers know that they are appreciated every time they visit you, missed when they leave (or when you don’t see them for a while), and that their business matters to you. You’ll be surprised at how powerful these three steps are as customer-retention and business-growth strategies.

As the leader of a smaller business, you’re better-positioned to keep up with every single customer than your larger-scale competitors are, no matter how well-financed they may be. Use this ability to your advantage, and you may not be small for long.”


 

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