Originally uploaded by CleverIndie
The more I read on various message boards about customer service – from both sides of the transaction- the more I realize that the primary role of customer service is not actually the service role, but a very different one that begins the moment the customer walks through the door (brick and mortar or virtual).
Customer satisfaction and good customer service are usually a direct result of setting customer expectations and then meeting those expectations.
In my old career of providing customer service for large corporations, I discovered that the dissatisfied customers were the ones who had unreasonable expectations that could not be met or those who had reasonable expectations that had not been met. From first contact to last, all interactions with the customer are building expectation.
Companies begin building expectation by choosing a specific location for their storefront. The build expectation through their logo design, their reception area, even the ease of navigating their phone system when you call to ask a question- before the customer and company ever exchange paper, the expectations are being set.
Some expectations are assumed, they are ingrained in our culture- whether that culture is our specific location in the world, our language, or the type of business we engage in. But beyond the cultural expectations, everything else should be set by the company, and expressed effectively.
When this doesn’t happen, people get mad. People share their anger with their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and with the blooming of the internet and it’s blogs and message boards, masses of strangers and near-strangers. The sharing of information has made company reputation somewhat precarious. There is the old scenario of someone having a bad meal at a restaurant and telling a friend, who then tells a friend, who tells a friend… Today that one person may mention the terrible meal on their blog, and instantly that information is open to everyone- that one person they told, could be 30 people in that first day – who tell 30 more people…Or it could be tens of thousands of people, who remember the negative review while making small talk with tens of thousands of their friends. Bad news is viral.
There is the argument that any publicity is good publicity, but still bad news is viral.
You want people to take the chance with your company, with your product, with you, as a small business you may be less likely to afford to lose potential customers based on one person’s negative experience.
What uses more energy? Putting out fires or preventing them?
Preventing the fires (from negative customer experience to bad press) is difficult, it’s a multifaceted, never-ending process, but once the process of identifying, setting, and meeting expectations is put into place, the results can be quite spectacular.
My first suggestion is to start a small notebook to brainstorm.
Be mindful of your start to finish experience when engaging as a customer with similar businesses. In my case, I took note of my experiences with companies such as Amazon.com and my experiences purchasing goods from sellers on ebay and on Etsy…it doesn’t have to be the same type of goods…Actually, I find that an assortment of experiences work best- a broader range of expectations and goods, and in these difficult financial times, it’s something you can study without breaking the bank, while purchasing necessities for your family and business.
If you take an experience from start (realizing you need to buy a specific widget to having the widget in your hands) to finish and really dissect the experience- from why you chose to buy the widget from that particular place to what you expected from the experience before it even began, and how any expectations changed and why during the experience, and how your expectations were met and not met and how things could have been done differently to have met all of your expectations.
Many people consider customer service to be an entity, something that comes into play only after a negative product or service experience. The more time I spend on both sides of all transactions, I realize that the most important responsibility of customer service runs throughout the customer experience. In a time of job cuts, and corporate customer service having a negative association (people almost expect bad customer service from most companies these days, regardless of their actual experience with the specific company), we really do need to examine why customer service has earned this association, and ultimately I keep coming back to the concept of expectations.
The best way to understand the areas you need to address, as far as setting, expressing, and meeting them in your own business, is to take a very close, and very focused look at your experiences as a consumer, and as a provider of goods and/or services in regards to expectations throughout the customer experience.
In the coming weeks I will be taking a closer look at my experiences with expectations, I would love to hear some of yours as well…