Customer service is a critical piece of every marketing plan.

That’s true for businesses large or small unless you are selling a one-time use product and you don’t need referrals. While fancy advertising campaigns and stunning social media posts may drive prospective customers to the door, it is the service experience which lingers in their mind. So if the interaction with your people is the critical moment, is your team ready when they are asked to step up? 

The Customer Service Training Failure

Case in point, on a recent trip to the grocery store I ran into an employee who was completely unprepared. I went to the store specifically to purchase one item. After picking up a few other things (who really buys only one thing at a grocery store?) I discovered they didn’t carry what I was looking for. I was a bit disappointed as I approached the checkout lane where the clerk greeted me with a pleasant hello and asked the standard customer service question, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

When I replied with a simple “no” there was an awkward silence. Clearly, he didn’t know what to do or say next. While he had been trained to ask the question, clearly no one had told this young man what to do if a customer actually answered it. Maybe corporate assumed customers would never complain or that they had so many items surely you would always be able to find everything you need. Whatever their assumption, it led to an awkward silence and a customer (me) feeling like this store didn’t quite live up to their customer service promises. 

Critical Thinking Required

While training and a well-written customer service manual are good first steps, they aren’t enough to guarantee a satisfied customer. There is simply no way to plan out every possible contingency when dealing with real people. We have all been in that situation when your conversation with customer service seems to go in circles as the representative outlines policy and procedure which doesn’t quite solve your problem. What we long for is someone who will apply common sense to the problem. 

Here’s the challenge: what we need are employees who can think critically, evaluate options and come up with a solution. Unfortunately, critical thinking skills are rarely taught in school and rarely rewarded in the workplace. It is risky to think outside the box and solve a problem in an unconventional way. The employee who never varies from the “authorized” script will never get into trouble. Can you say the same for an employee who is willing to do something outside the rules to delight a customer? 

For many companies, this independence is scary. What if the employee promises something you can’t deliver? Are you willing to risk that occasionally, to delight your customers regularly? Companies who take the risk build a loyal fan base, willing to shop with them again and again. Think about Nordstrom and the sales people willing to go to the store next door to find the perfect accessory to match a dress for the client. It sounds outrageous until you think about the positive word of mouth and the loyalty built with the customer.

Don’t be afraid to bet on your employees.  

You hired them because they seemed to be smart and have good common sense. Give them guidelines such as a spending or refund limit to resolve issues. Publicly recognize employees who are creative and go the extra mile for clients, and use staff meetings to discuss issues they couldn’t resolve. Train your employees to think about customer satisfaction, not work from a manual. 

Want to win the battle for your customer’s heart? It won’t be won on social media or with great advertising. It will be won, face to face with a client who leaves the experience smiling, willing to tell a friend, and ready to return.  

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