We’re often told of the value of ‘going the extra mile’ in the course of our interaction with customers. But what does the phrase actually mean? It’s surely about going above and beyond the call of duty. To do more than is expected or asked of you in order to deliver a favourable outcome for the company or person you’re dealing with, even if there is nothing in it for you. It stands to reason therefore that those organisations or individuals who consistently go the extra mile with their approach to customer service are the ones that are the most successful and have the most loyal customers.
Such an approach is even more valuable in today’s competitive marketplace because customers are prospected like never before, so their loyalty cannot be taken for granted. Customer-focused companies and individuals are well aware of the fact that relationship building and continual rather than ad-hoc customer service are vital components for promoting both customer retention and long-term revenue growth.
Pursuing a ‘one size fits all’ approach in the quest for providing superior customer service is fundamentally flawed and will never see your levels hit the heights you’re looking for. Research in the field of human psychology indicates that people are born into one of four primary temperament styles; aggressive, expressive, passive or analytical. The definition of superior customer service tends to be defined slightly differently by each of these temperament styles, so only when you’re able to identify them will you be able to truly personalise your service to fit your customers’ expectations. For example, if you’re providing customer service to the impatient, aggressive style, they expect a quick fix and a bottom line solution. While at the other end of the scale, the analytical style requires a great deal of information that focuses on intricate detail.
In addition to understanding the mentality of your customers, you should recognise the importance of nonverbal communication and be able to interpret body language correctly. To illustrate the significance of this skill, research suggests that 70 per cent of our face-to-face interactions with other people are perceived nonverbally. In fact, studies reveal that body language not only has a much greater communication impact, but is far more reliable than the spoken word. If a customer’s words are at odds with his or her body language, you would be wise to go with the latter as a more accurate gauge of their satisfaction.
They say first impressions count; well this is certainly true of customer service. If you don’t make a favourable one when meeting customers for the first time, it could have a long-lasting negative impact that you find difficult to shake off in the course of your subsequent engagement with them. Research shows that people typically decide within the first few moments of an encounter whether they like and trust a stranger or not. A positive first impression is critical because, by its very nature, you can’t get that opportunity back and by the time it’s gone a lot of damage may have been done. Creating a favourable first impression and building rapport quickly is relatively easy to achieve by using open body language gestures, smiling, and making direct eye contact.
Superior customer service is more to do with your ability to actively listen than it is your ability to express yourself verbally. Ask open-ended questions to show an interest in getting to the bottom of their pain points and that you’re taking their issues seriously. It’s also a good ploy to occasionally repeat your customers’ words back to them verbatim so they know you’re paying attention. Doing this not only clarifies the communication itself, but it also enables you to build rapport. Focus on what your customer is saying and avoid the temptation to interrupt, argue, or dominate the conversation. Falling into this trap when they’re talking is likely to destroy any rapport you may have established up to that point. If you do happen to slip up in this regard, apologise quickly to minimise the damage.
Delivering quality customer service should be seen both as a responsibility and an opportunity. Too often, it’s viewed by salespeople as a box ticking exercise that cost them time that could be used to make further sales. In truth though, customer service done properly provides a huge opportunity for cross-selling, up-selling, and generating quality referrals.
More often than not, customers point to attention to detail and responsiveness as their yardsticks for measuring good customer service. Satisfaction surveys consistently allude to the fact that it’s the little things that make a big difference. Not surprisingly, the top two complaints with regards to customer service are unreturned phone calls and a failure to keep promises and commitments. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to try and imagine yourself in your customers’ shoes when assessing your performance.
Customer service is something that all organisations are judged on, so it’s important to guard against complacency. Treating it with the same rigour as you would any other project is a good way of ensuring that high standards are not only achieved but maintained. Adhering to best practice project management principles, such as those embodied in the PRINCE2® training courses run by ILX Group, can make this a formality.