Customer service. For small businesses, it’s that “one thing” that can be the great equalizer when going up against big box and online retailers and other local players. Yet for many, it’s more of a challenge than a competitive advantage.
Think about it—when was the last time YOU received amazing customer service?
You know the kind that blows your socks off and immediately makes you want to tell anyone within ear shot?
Over the past week, I know I personally ran into a string of head scratching snafus that left me wondering—what happened to the whole idea of exemplary customer service and what can small business owners do to actually fix it?
First things first—never settle for employees that don't "get" customer service. Ever! Lowering your expectations as a small business owner and trying to rationalize subpar performance only perpetuates the problem.
Creating a culture of customer service means everyone on your team has to be committed to going above and beyond the call of duty during each and every touch point. And it all starts with find the right talent.
Hire People Who Are Passionate About Service
Use job descriptions and the entire interview process to set expectations and screen out any candidates you don’t think are going to fit the mold. For me, customer service is all about passion and having a little fire in the belly.
If they’re someone who is intellectually curious, not afraid to roll up their proverbial sleeves, and they’re determined to succeed—they could be just the folks you’re looking for.
This is an area the folks at Argyle Social, a Durham, NC-based social media software startup, always seem to nail it. In one job description, they mentioned they were looking for candidates who were willing to work harder than they’re working now. How’s that for setting the tone? Here, they define their ideal candidate as a hustler (and not in a bad way)…
Use Training To Reinforce Your Business Values
But hiring is only the beginning. Once you have your team in place, you need to look for opportunities to give your employees the tools they need to be successful.
From day one, you need to be able to clearly define what “customer service” means to your small business. Is it answering the phone within 2 rings? Is it helping customers to their car? Is it saying hello and making eye contact? Is it all of the above?
Beyond defining what makes great customer service, you also need to talk about it on a regular basis.
Every customer interaction (both good and bad) can provide you with content for quick case studies and lively discussions. Capture those moments as they happen and then work with your staff to find a time share notes.
Reward Employees Who Go Above And Beyond
This can definitely be a tricky one. How do you differentiate normal duties and expectations from going “above and beyond?” Over the years, I’ve sat in on quite a few discussions on just that very topic.
In the end, it always comes down to clearly defining the difference between the two and communicating those differences with your employees. Once you have that figured out, you can then focus on creating a process for rewards and recognition.
Praise can be as simple as a verbal “Great job!” or double high five or be something more formal like one of those “Employee of the Month” plaques you see every once in a while.
Looking for a slightly different spin, I once created a golden (literally painted gold to make it more fancy) lunch pail award to recognize members of my team who exhibited extra effort as recognized by his or her peers. In addition to the lunch pail which was awarded each quarter, I also included a gift card as a small token of my appreciation for their efforts.
Never settle for employees that don’t "get" it
It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and explain away subpar customer service based on generational differences, minimum wage, or not having enough time but personally, I just can’t accept it.
When you hire the right employees, train them on how to deliver outstanding customer service, and recognize them when they deliver—you will turn your culture into a competitive advantage.
How do you create a culture of customer service at your business?
Leave a comment below.
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user Dell Inc.]