How Do You Define Customer Service?

“We provide excellent customer service.”

Have you ever heard that phrase? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself and yet just how often do we really provide great service to our customers?

What is customer service, anyway?

The Encyclopedia Britannica says “Customer service involves an array of activities to keep existing customers satisfied.”

Wow. That’s vague. And who defines what will satisfy a customer?

The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale offers these alternative words for service: assistance, help, aid, abetment, good turn, favor, a hand, a leg up, benefit, contribution; boost, promotion, advancement, furtherance, advocacy, recommendation, support and backing.

We can sink our teeth into those words, but we are still sitting in a room alone, or with our team members defining what great customer service looks like without the benefit of the customer’s suggestions. How can we provide great customer service or “keep existing customers satisfied” without input from our customers?

So the first step to providing great customer service is to define just what it looks and feels like. A great place to start is by asking your best customers:

What keeps you coming back?

What experiences do we provide that mean the most to you?

What is the most important component of great customer service for you?

The customer may or may not be able to define exactly what your customer service components are but the conversation will have two important results:

1. The customer will feel valued because you asked their opinion, listened to what they had to say and plan to use some, if not all, of their suggestions.

2. By listening between the lines, you can begin to understand just what is truly important to your customer.

When my teenage son was young he and I would spent a week each summer camping. Sometimes we’d tent camp and sometimes we’d visit a campground with cabins. His attention span was short and so I would plan great activities for our week; visiting a local children’s museum, a day at the amusement park, hayrides, hikes in the woods and trips down the river in a canoe. Each day was carefully planned with play time and adventure time. The activities were fun but also costly and a cheap vacation in a tent would often cost as much as if we’d stayed in a hotel.

One summer, as we drove home from our fun-packed week, I asked my then five year old son what his favorite time had been. We’d visited Santa’s Village and I fully expected him to pick the amusement park as his favorite experience.

“Remember that day we sat at the picnic table and colored in the Spiderman book?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“That.”

“What?”

“That was my favorite.”

Who knew? We can guess what our customer thinks is the most important element of service but unless we ask them, we really are only guessing. If we base our customer service measurements against a guess – then how can we be sure we’ve truly satisfied our customers?

So how do we go about defining the customer experience for our business?

A lot depends on the type of business. If you are an online business, your service will be based on how easy it is to navigate your website, walking the fine line between clutter and content and ensuring your words speak the customer’s language.

A service business may be more defined by accessibility. How easy is it to actually get a hold of you? Do you answer your phone or return calls quickly. Do you have email and respond within a few hours? Are you willing to meet the customer in their office? Do you follow through in a timely manner? Do you keep your promises?

A call center will rely heavily on the attitude and tone of voice of the call center employee. Can you hear the smile in their voice? Do they over use the “hold” button? Are they trained to resolve issues or will the customers have to repeat their story many times up the management ladder?

A brick and mortar business has additional opportunities to provide service starting with the parking lot; is it clean and does it offer plenty of parking spaces? Is the customer greeted warmly and promptly? Is your staff knowledgeable, helpful and available without hovering? Is there an adequate selection? Is the store merchandised in a pleasing manner? Have you dusted, vacuumed and emptied the visible trash cans? If cleanliness is important to your customer, seeing an employee’s half eaten lunch at the cash register could be a make or break moment for your customer.

Employees are another great resource for defining customer service.

Who better to help define service than the people that interact with customers everyday? Ask your employees what they hear customers tell them. If customers comment about the great magazine selection in your waiting room then keep them current. If customers comment on the fact that you provide coffee or ice water then perhaps that is something to continue.

By including your employees in the definition process, they are taking ownership of making sure it continues going forward.

A key element to providing and becoming known for providing great customer service is consistency. Ritz Carlton is known worldwide for their customer service. How did they develop such a world class reputation? At Ritz Carlton great customer service happens everyday with every customer and every employee in every location around the world.

What service can you provide to your customers every time? Is it something that matters to the customer? Create your definition of superior customer service by asking employees and customers what matters most. Once you’ve defined what great service looks like, then it is time to make it happen!

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