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The choice

Though business has its own set of complexities, customer service isn’t one of them. Exceptional customer service is simply a choice.

Employees develop their own definitions of customer service and decide for themselves how they view customers: as honored guests who contribute to the success of the enterprise or as fickle adversaries who are just looking for the best deal.

And, as the lyrics from Rush’s Freewill advise, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

This describes most customer service employees. They have not made a conscious choice to provide exceptional customer service. As a result, they are indifferent toward customer service and customers.

Why haven’t they made a conscious choice? No one’s asked them to. In most cases, no one’s even brought it up.

As a result, employees go about their shifts tending to the mandatory job functions (i.e., the duties associated with an employee’s job role) for which they are accountable (you can bet these conversations have occurred) but give little or no thought to the essence of their jobs, their highest priority—to create delighted customers.

Ignorance may be bliss but it’s bad for business.

68 percent of customers surveyed quit doing business with a company because of perceived indifference toward them as customers.

Oftentimes, employees don’t even recognize when they treat customers indifferently. If you were to poll them, most would rate the quality of their personal customer service as excellent.

Why the discrepancy? There are many factors. Here are three:

1.  leadership apathy

2.  managerial myopia

3.  systems/processes that undermine service quality

If company leaders don’t emphasize the jugular importance of customer service to their employees, where else do they expect them to get the message? The framed mission statement hanging in the reception area? The employee handbook? Please…

Managers are largely tasked with running a profitable operation within a given budget. In order to accomplish this, managers oversee the execution of a set of defined job functions associated with one or more job roles. This is not the problem.

The problem is when managers focus solely on job functions and neglect job essence—an employee’s highest priority—which is always to create delighted customers. (Unless, of course, you work for the US Postal Service or some other entity that can lose $8.5B a year and continue to exist. Then, I suppose you can focus exclusively on job function and get away with it.)

Many organizations create systems or processes that undermine service quality. Perhaps the most common are call centers where employees are evaluated based on the quantity of phone calls processed and how quickly they can end those calls. In these environments, employees are conditioned to treat calls as timed transactions rather than opportunities to serve customers.

In the end, it requires a choice. Employees choose whether or not to express genuine interest, convey authentic enthusiasm, provide pleasant surprises or, in some other way, delight their customers.

Company leaders can influence this choice when they communicate their passion for serving customers in words and deeds. Managers can guide this choice by emphasizing the importance of both job function and job essence. And systems will reinforce this choice when they are designed to serve customers rather than frustrate them.

I welcome all comments, questions, bouquets, and brickbats.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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