What is your Achilles Heel in Customer Service?
Your faithful correspondent has been in the customer-client service game since 1978 after graduating from what would become three stints at university for deepening his learning.
The first gig was working in consumer lending as a loans and mortgage officer; however, half the time was spent out of the office collecting loan arrears face-to-face from customers. That experience proved to be a character-building lesson.
Three decades in the public service, working in and managing service branches, was both a rewarding and, at times, mind-altering experience when it came to incompetent senior bureaucrats. And since retiring, yours truly has returned to the private sector to work part-time in home improvement and, more recently, outdoor gear and apparel. While you don’t get rich in retail, you can have a lot of fun, both with customers and co-workers. That’s not to forget the ongoing need to keep learning about new products to assist customers.
One irony is that the importance of continuous learning seems to be more important in your correspondent’s outdoor gear sales work than it did in the federal government–very odd, and one requiring more probing at a later date.
The recent talk in the U.S. and Canada about a $15 per hour minimum wage for workers in the service industry (the public conversation has been oriented towards the food and beverage industry) has been interesting, from the perspective of labor economics, which was a major part of your correspondent’s career.
Enough has been written by some informed observers as to the calamitous effects of such a wage jump: more automation in restaurants, lower staffing levels (with undoubtedly weaker customer service) and small businesses shutting their doors, with one result being less competition in the marketplace.
Regardless of how the $15 per hour minimum wage movement plays out, there are some important ways for businesses to stay ahead of their competitors. In the past, I’ve used the example of my car dealership to stress key customer service principles and why vigilance on the part of management is vital to ensuring that employees are always performing at the top of their game.
Here’s just a small example of something dumb that happened at my dealership, but how an on-the-ball new employee quickly fixed the problem.
We have two Hyundai vehicles and have dealt with the same dealer for five years. The other day I called the store to make an appointment for an oil change for my Tucson. I’ve always tried to avoid making appointments through their call center (located downtown while I live in the suburbs) since they’ve messed up in the past. However, sometimes when the service desk at the dealership is busy they bounce the call back to the call center. When I arrived at the dealership for my oil change they had no record of the appointment.
To make matters worse, my two favorite assistant service managers weren’t there (Laura on mat leave and Jarrett had transferred out). However, the new gal, Holly, who served me was so professional (a former Toyota dealer employee) that it was as if no mistake had been made. As she said to me: “…we’ve been getting complaints about the call center and it’s being phased out. Here’s my card and extension. Call me directly from now on to make an appointment.”
While heading to the waiting area I ran into the general manager. When I gave Marc some feedback he explained some new developments at the dealership, including the ability to book appointments on line. One key aspect of being the top dude in an automotive dealership is being visible and accessible to customers. Marc certainly is, with his glassed office being beside the waiting area. How many customer service companies practice this?
This brings us to the human capital component of this post. Too many companies see and treat their employees as budget line items, to be terminated when times get tough, hired when business picks up, paid premiums when the job market heats up. It’s a stupid approach.
Because you typically lose some of your A-level players, along with your B and C-level players, during the bad times. The big challenge for those managing businesses and leading employees is figuring out how to not just retain the A-level players but how to coach them to help turn the B-level players into A-level ones. C-level players, to be blunt, were bad hiring decisions. Deal with it. Let them go.
This is what happened at my dealership last year. One of the service reps was an older fellow (sixties) who’d been in the automotive industry a long time. He may have had a lot of acquired knowledge but his customer skills were very weak and his indifferent attitude showed it. In short, he was likely played out and should have been in retirement. It wasn’t just my numerous complaints about his behavior that resulted in his being fired but that of many other customers. Maybe this guy was a B-level player previously in his career; perhaps an A-level. However, his inability to relate to customers and serve them well was dragging down the dealership.
The responsibility of top management, regardless of industry or setting, is to build a strong and effective customer service team. Focus on developing a best-in-class A-level team; this is your coaching team for the B-level players who show promise and just need the guidance and discipline to move to the next level.
In an ideal world no business would have C-level players. But hiring mistakes happen. The manager’s job is to address these situations as quickly as possible, not just for the business but for the employee as well.
Take a moment to share your thoughts on customer service.
Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
– Damon Richards
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