The client stood, arms folded, asking the vendor to make a few minor adjustments to meet the requests of the company’s leadership. The vendor, his mind focused on juggling an overflowing appointment book, basically disregarded the request. After all, none of his other clients were that particular.
Two weeks later, the same request was made of the vendor by a leader in the company. The request was not outlandish, and did not require any more time of the vendor—just a slight change in procedure. Still, the vendor’s response was again disengaged, and he continued to shrug off the request.
Another two weeks later the company had a new vendor.
The skill of listening to client needs is a key to providing good customer service. And it makes good business sense: It costs much less to keep an existing customer than it does to acquire a new one. So one would think that acutely listening to customer needs is paramount for all companies, right?
Terri Schepps, President of Integrity for You, helps companies provide proactive customer service. In an article she wrote for Customer Relation Management Today, Schepps says,
Often corporations of all types perform passive customer analysis. They look at why and when customers or distributors call the company. Passive analysis is essential. However, only one in twenty customers who have a complaint will call and inform the company. Occasionally a customer will deliver a compliment. With passive analysis, companies miss out on important feedback.
Companies make the most gains when they assertively ask for feedback. A few of the benefits pointed out by Schepps include:
• Valuable data for effective marketing strategies
• Valuable data for new product/service development
• Customer needs are identified
• Customer satisfaction history is created
• Customer profile and contact information gets updated
• Win-back criteria is collected to reclaim cancelled or inactive customers
Collecting this information is good, but it’s not useful unless a plan is in place to act on it. An article at marketrearch.com by the U.K.-based organization Keisley Harris says “the purpose of getting feedback is to improve service; [and] that purpose will not be realized unless follow-through is planned in at the start of the process and pursued with discipline.”
Here is the caveat: We must create a specific, measurable objective to improve service. This is universal for all organizations. Management guru Tom Peters says each company has to become “raging, thunder-lizard evangelists” for their specific corporate mission. But all companies need to be equally passionate about getting feedback on and improving customer service.
We must be disciplined.
We must follow through.
But is it all so simple?
Well, almost. Keisley Harris says we need to do a few things beyond listening:
• Respond to what we learn - always
• Get credit from customers for listening and acting
Good service starts with seeking out information. Anyone—and this includes those at all levels of the company—who interacts with a client should have their ear tuned for customer feedback. What doesn’t get said at one level often gets said to a level above or a level below. Rather than say customer service is the job of the customer service rep, use every opportunity to collect feedback and pass it on to appropriate people. Knowledge is power, and if you want a powerful company you have to spread knowledge about customer feedback.
Then, according to Keisley Harris, we need to respond—always. To collect data and do nothing with it is like getting the winning lotto ticket but not turning it in. Create an environment in which your people eagerly act on the company’s behalf to make good customer service decisions.
Finally, and this may seem odd to some, get credit from customers for listening and taking action. Many people are so busy that they fail to realize that others have gone out of their way to help them. Some may see this as “blowing your own horn,” but if nobody notices what you’ve done to improve your service, you may not get the results you seek.