Running your own small business is no picnic. Sure, you’ve liberated yourself from the rat race. You’ve unshackled yourself from a job where your potential was wasted and your skills were starting to atrophy. Of course you no longer have to stagnate in a regressive workplace culture amidst people whose drive and ambition have been dulled by the comforting numbness of the 9 to 5. Would you ever go back? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean that running your own small business isn’t a challenging and often frustrating endeavor. The long hours, the virtually ever present stress, the impostor syndrome that nags away at you, telling you that any minute now you’ll be identified as the fraud you are… It can all conspire to make you throw your hands up in the air and ask yourself “Why?”.
And you know what… That’s a pretty pertinent question.
The “why” of what you do is enormously important. It defines your mission statement. It lays the foundations upon which your entire business is built. It’s your totem and your mantra. It’s the thing that you keep coming back to time and again to give you a renewed sense of purpose and see past the trappings of running a business; the stress, the strain and the niggles to get that valuable perspective on what really matters. The “why” may change as your business evolves. The “why” may mean something slightly different to you than it does to your employees, and that’s okay. Your “why” is your own but there’s a very good chance that it involves making the world a better place and enriching the lives of others. It’s this second factor that we’re going to focus on here. Customer service enables us to make a real and meaningful difference in people’s lives. We can lend a helping hand to those that need it most and leave people a whole lot happier and more fulfilled than when we met them. But in an increasingly impersonal and remote (largely digital) marketplace, it begs the question…
In the digital age, does customer service really matter?
We’re constantly told that customers are getting increasingly fickle despite businesses spending a small fortune trying to retain them. In the digital age, customers have more choice than ever and are empowered to make purchasing decisions on their own terms. In this climate one might argue that customer service is on the way out. Today’s customers want cheap, they want quick and they want a minimum of hassle, and they’re prepared to compromise on quality to get it. And while this may ring true for some customers, make no mistake customer service is more important than ever.
As tempting as it may see to race our competitors to the bottom, offering low price, low quality goods and services, this simply isn’t a sustainable model. We shouldn’t abandon our customer service principles because the market is growing ever more competitive. If anything this gives us more of a reason to cling to them. Great customer service can be one more USP that we have over our competitors. It can incentivize positive feedback on public forums like social media. It can strengthen our relationship with our customers and enrich the experience of not only our employees but our customers and ourselves.
But as passionate as we may be about delivering customer service, all enterprises struggle with the old chestnut called consistency. After all, our customers have the right to expect an outstanding experience from us every time. If you’re to deliver consistently excellent customer service it needs to be reflected in your…
Ideally you should look for candidates with customer service backgrounds and check their references for a history of delivering outstanding customer service. But keep in mind that a resume never quite gives you the full picture. Don’t be afraid to use role play exercises in interviews to see how your candidates would handle a given situation with a customer. Remember the core competencies that lead to outstanding customer service and select your candidates accordingly.
The surest way to deliver consistency in your customer service experience is through employee training. But remember that while training may be disruptive and potentially expensive, it cannot be effective if treated as a “one and done” exercise. Training needs to be delivered regularly and tested to ensure that your business attends to the ever changing needs of your customers.
There are many different techniques you can incorporate into your training but it needs to empower customer facing employees to defuse situations with autonomy and decisiveness. The phrase “I’ll have to ask my manager” is rarely one that instills customers with good faith. The training also needs to have measured outcomes resulting either in standardized testing at its conclusion or in how it’s reflected in the employees’ day to day duties.
Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Customer satisfaction surveys present us with a great opportunity to ensure that the training with which we imbue on our employees is paying dividends. If not, then perhaps additional training and support needs to be given or perhaps even disciplinary measures need to be taken. In order for customer satisfaction surveys they need to be tailored specifically to your business and what customers need from it. Templates are fine as a starting point but they should at the very least be adapted to reflect the specific customer experience your business provides. There are many ways in which you can measure your employees’ customer service aptitudes, but we recommend basing it around the RATER model featured on SimpleSat. The RATER model consists of;
Once you have applied these qualities to the realities of how your employees facilitate the customer experience this can be applied to…
Performance management and incentives structures
Both your training and your customer satisfaction survey data should influence your performance management and incentives. They should be used to create quantifiable criteria for success in customer interactions which can be rewarded however you see fittest.
Finally… Modelling best practice
But as the head of your company and the leader of your brand it’s up to you to set an example for your workforce. Model and demonstrate best practice to them without becoming a relentless micromanager and your employees will feel empowered and supported while your customers feel positive and valued.