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Customer Service It shouldn’t Just be the Name of a Department

Customer Service shouldn’t just be the name of a department, but all too often it is.

Customer service is the service provided to customers before, during and after buying and/or using goods and services. So many roles will involve an element of customer service whether selling clothing, food or building materials, or a providing a service such as HR, dentistry or your weekly rubbish collection. Good customer service meets or goes beyond a customer’s expectation and bad customer service leads to complaints and often a rant on Twitter too. 90 per cent of our work is repeat or referred which speaks volumes about our own customer service.

We really don’t do customer service well in the UK, especially larger organisations. Since very high standards of service are dear to my working heart, regular readers of this bog will have heard me fume about a number of poor providers over the years. Quite a few involve telecoms companies, but are not confined to those …. I am not alone. In one article the author pointed out that consumers who fall into the clutches of those irritating “push one to talk to a dalek, push two to listen to a patronising and lengthy message on a premium rate line about how important you are to us as a customer, push three to go to the mad house” type lines and if we weren’t steaming before, we certainly are by the time we reach anything resembling a human. Customer disservice technology is turning consumers into impatient, raging monsters.

Our line of work is all about talking to clients. We need to be able to establish what the client wants to achieve and communicate the best way to get that result, even if we sometimes have to give advice which is not what the client wanted to hear. We ask questions along the way and get feedback from the client after. Our client needs to trust that the advice that we give will get him to where he wants to be with as little risk as possible to him and the business. The first part of gaining that trust is talking to the client, building rapport and understanding the needs of his business.

Good customer service isn’t only about the paying client; it also involves colleagues. We recently had a client with an employee who used to be very good at his job. Over the last year he became very short and snappy with the receptionist and a few clients complained that he was being rude. The client didn’t do anything about this to start with. As things got worse the client had an informal conversation with him. It didn’t seem to do any good. It got to the point where the third receptionist in 12 months said that he was rude and she wanted to leave the company. Nearly every customer said the same thing about him being rude and some started saying that they wouldn’t work with him again. Eventually the matter was resolved via a protected conversation.

How do you achieve great service in your organisation? Here are a few of our methods, but there are many more.

  • Recruit people who are intrinsically quality driven to deliver personal high quality service.
  • Identify, write down, communicate and live your core values. They should cover how customers, employees, and vendors should be treated at all times.
  • Regularly reinforce your commitment to these values and live to these standards.
  • Train, support, hire, and, if appropriate, use discipline to enforce what’s important to you.

I like this quote: ‘‘Maintaining a culture is like raising a teenager,’’ says Ray Davis, President and CEO of Umpqua Bank, the Pacific-Northwest-based U.S. retail bank that’s consistently top rated for service. ‘‘You’re constantly checking in. What are you doing? Where are you going? Who are you hanging out with?’’ And, sometimes, you have to use some tough love when that teenager is acting up in ways that don’t support the culture you’re working to build.

Generally most people know that good customer service involves being polite and actively helpful. Should a customer or client complain of bad customer service you will need to establish why it has happened? Is it a capability matter i.e. the employee doesn’t know about customer service, or is it a conduct matter i.e. that the employee has elected to give bad customer service? An investigation into it needs to take place. Most of the time bad customer service will be a conduct matter; it certainly was with the client mentioned above.

Rudeness to customers is listed as an act of gross misconduct in our policy but whether it is a dismissible offence will depend on the facts. Consider the bigger picture. Was it a one off? If so was the employee having a bad day or was he provoked? If the employee has long service and it has not happened before it may not be reasonable to dismiss depending on what the employee said or did.

For advice on sorting out conduct, capability or any other HR problem, get in touch.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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