The Company Welcome Mat

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The Company Welcome Mat – How to Keep Customers Knocking on Your Door
By Nancy Friedman Telephone Doctor

I’m often asked: "What is the biggest and most costly customer service mistake in business today?" Our answer is simple – "We’re just not friendly enough."

Customers should be treated as welcome guests when they call an organization; instead, they’re often treated like an interruption or, even worse, an annoyance. More than 90 percent of all customer service includes a telephone call. That said, customer service mistakes happen anytime and in many ways, whichever way you communicate with your customers.

These customer service tips will help you start or benchmark your own customer service training program. Bring your staff together at a time when everyone can attend and talk about any frustrating customer events. Discuss how they handled them versus how it could have been done. The meeting can be short, maybe 15 minutes, and it doesn’t need to be daily – but it does need to be done. Not having a customer service training program in place can cost every organization revenue and customers. Poor customer service creates a negative image for the entire organization, no matter how wonderful the products or services are that you offer.

And if staff has the attitude that there’s no competitive organization for customers to go to, tell them that may be right, but if one customer tells another about a negative experience and so on down the line, more customers will leave your business. Then staff jobs will be lost, and eventually, bang – no organization at all.

Here are 3 of the biggest service mistakes that are most likely to anger customers into lifelong resentment toward an organization:

MISTAKE 1: NOT SMILING

Solution: Smile. It sounds insanely simplistic, doesn’t it? We’re taught early that a smile can get us a lot. This is true even as adults, especially on the telephone. Since the telephone is the most commonly used mode of communication, we need to understand why a smile works – because you can hear a smile. We recommend keeping a mirror by your desk, so when you pick up the receiver, you can tell if you’re smiling.

OK, OK sometimes we don’t feel like smiling. Well ya know what? Smile anyway. The caller doesn’t care if you feel like smiling or not. At Telephone Doctor, smiling before you pick up the phone is a condition of employment; not smiling is grounds for termination, and, yes, I have exercised that option. With customer service as our top priority, we simply don’t tolerate not smiling before you pick up the phone. Frankly, I’d rather have the caller think your office is closed than to have you answer the phone in a negative mood. (YES, the caller CAN HEAR the smile.)

MISTAKE 2: NOT ACKNOWLEDGING A CALLER’S REQUEST OR PROBLEM

Solution: Rapid responses. We have a so-called "mental stamp" at Telephone Doctor that reads "RR," which means, "This request or piece of information needs an immediate and rapid response." Requests and problems need to be handled sooner than later. Delaying a request can cause more problems than the original request.

Another good habit to get into is to ask the customer: "By the way, when would you be needing this Mr. Jones?" Our surveys found that when a customer is asked when he or she would like to receive the needed information, 80 percent did not automatically respond, "I need it now," as you might expect. Thus, you don’t have to promise, "I’ll get that to you right away." Often, callers won’t need something until tomorrow or next week. Asking for a timetable is good customer service.

And, by the way, "as soon as possible" is not a time. Confirm a date or time.

MISTAKE 3: IMMEDIATE REJECTION OF A REQUEST

Solution: Be a "double-checker." It’s so easy to tell people, "We don’t have it." or "Sorry, it’s past the deadline." or "We ran out of that report." Instead, try a soft rejection: "The last time I checked it wasn’t available but, let me double-check on that for you." It’s a wonderful way to defuse any disappointment about you not having what they called for in the first place. This simple statement immediately defuses some of the tension of not being able to fulfill a request completely. And often when we do double-check, we find a way to get what the person wanted after all.

You now have three techniques (simple that they are) to kick-start or benchmark your customer service training program. To make these techniques happen, the entire staff, from President to maintenance, needs to embrace the customer service program or it won’t work. Be firm. The organization’s entire image is at stake since it is unlikely to get a second chance.

Don’t have time? Make time. What or who is more important than those customers? You’ll be surprised at how much fun it is to hear a customer say, "Thanks, you’ve been super."

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