Teresa Allen is a customer service expert speaker, trainer and the author of Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines and is co-author of The Service Path: Your Roadmap for Building Strong Customer Loyalty. In an exclusive interview with customerservice.ae, Teresa shared her insights and ideas on improving customer service.
Please tell us a bit about your company, “Common Sense Solutions”, and what kinds of customer service training and programs you offer?
Teresa Allen: Common Sense Solutions is a business training and consulting firm based in the U.S. The mission of Common Sense Solutions is to provide common sense strategies for business success specifically in the areas of customer service, sales and communication. I have been providing training to businesses and organizations across the US and abroad for over 20 years.
In your experience what are the most common customer service mistakes that companies make?
Teresa Allen: Companies often hire people who are just not friendly. There is an old saying that you can train skills but you can’t train ‘nice’. While the first impression given by employees can be enhanced through training, hiring people who LIKE serving others is a must. Observe the potential service representative in the first few seconds of an interview. A few seconds is all it takes for a customer to decide they like or dislike a service representative or their attitude.
Another mistake companies make is not making it right when the inevitable happens and things go wrong. Instead of calculating how much can be saved with a minimal response to a conflict or complaint, seek to WOW the customer with a response that exceeds expectations. This will earn the business of that customer and all his or her friends for life. Not realizing this potential positive or negative spin is the main focus of my customer service keynote presentations. A $25 transaction can have positive or negative spin in the thousands of dollars. Not realizing this can jeopardize not only the transaction but the entire business future.
A related mistake made by companies is inconsistent interaction on social media channels. The company is no longer in charge of its reputation – the customer is! Would you build a call center and hire no one to answer the phone? Of course not! Yet many businesses set up a Facebook page or Twitter account and then only sporadically participate in customer conversations. This can be devastating to an organization’s online reputation.
How can companies equip the frontline staff to be proactive and handle customer service situations more strategically?
Teresa Allen: Continual training for front line employees is a strategy for customer service success. Management often hears customer complaints and then believes there are ‘bad’ service providers on their front line. While this can be true, it is more often the case that employees have not been adequately trained for the specific customer service situations they will face on the job. Such training needs to include basics on how to make a good first impression, but also should include more advanced issues such as how to handle specific customer conflict situations. Training brings confidence and confidence breeds success. Training must be highly interactive, live, and situation specific to have maximum impact. Unfortunately, many organizations view training as an expense instead of a revenue generator and an investment that will build profits. Nothing will hit the bottom line harder and faster than customer service provided by front line staff to customers. Companies who realize this continually train staff and provide service learning avenues such as new employee service mentoring programs.
In your opinion, what is the difference between good service and great customer service?
Teresa Allen: A 2012 study of numerous industries by JD Power found that the difference between a ‘pleased’ customer and a ‘delighted’ customer resulted in a DOUBLING of the customer repurchase rate. It is my opinion that the difference between ‘pleased’ and ‘delighted’ often stems from the ability to treat customers as individuals with different lives, needs, and wants. If a company simply treats all customers the same, they will rarely rise above mediocre ‘pleased’ service. Customized service leads a customer to loyalty and relationship and in such a certain level of ‘delight’. If I am delighted with the service offered by a business, I will go out of my way to recommend that business. If I am merely satisfied, I may recommend the business or brand, but will not become a brand ambassador.
What are the three most important customer service tips you would recommend to enhance customer experience?
Teresa Allen: 1 Listen. 2 Empathize 3. Respond in a Timely Manner.
Great service representatives listen carefully to the customer. They listen for the feelings behind the words of the customer and listen for hints as to the customer’s lifestyle and individual needs. After listening, service providers must empathize with the customer, demonstrating that they understand how the customer plans to use the product or the service. In conflict situations service representatives empathize by demonstrating an understanding of the frustration experienced by the customer. Finally, the exceptional service representative responds to customer requests and concerns in a timely manner. This timeliness must be consistent regardless of the service channel. A customer complaining on social media should receive just as timely a response as a customer walking through the front door of a business. A recent study concludes that a quick response is critical to the perception of the customer encounter as a positive one. We live in a world that seems to move at the speed of light. Our service response must match the urgency that our customers experience in every other aspect of their daily lives.
What emerging trends do you foresee in customer service which companies should adopt in the future?
Teresa Allen: Customer information systems are constantly evolving and changing. One of the newer technologies actually pairs telephone service representatives with customers with whom they will have a natural connection due to similar voice patterns. While the web allows any size business to market to the consumer and business world, such advanced technologies may bring a widening gap in the service offered by large and small business. Smaller businesses can adapt more quickly, however, due to the costs and logistics of methods adapted by larger organizations.
Another trend is a continually changing metric for measurement of customer service. While many companies are just beginning to use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a benchmark, others have left this behind for more in depth customer experience measurement techniques such as customer satisfaction measurement (CSAT) and customer effort score (CES).
What are your suggestions for improving the overall customer service being provided by companies in the UAE?
Teresa Allen: UAE businesses must keep pace with technology advances in service channel offerings, customer satisfaction measurement tools and the daily monitoring of social media feedback. Government organizations and business associations should invest in training particularly of front line service employees, to safeguard the overall customer service reputation of the region. In some ways, newer UAE businesses and organizations may have an advantage over older local firms and even over established organizations in other countries who have found it difficult to update from older methods of commerce and customer connection. Excellence in customer service will be the true differentiator of the next decade between businesses, organizations, and even between countries. The time is now for the UAE to consider customer service a top economic priority and competitive strategy!.
More informational resources can be found on www.AllenSpeaks.com