Is Your Company Naughty or Nice?

How will your customers view the service they receive from you this holiday season?

Channel Partners

December 10, 2012

8 Min Read
Is Your Company Naughty or Nice?

By Ron Kaufman

Generally, companies try to stay on their best behavior all year long. But during this holiday season with decked halls, crowded malls, shrinking bank accounts and frayed nerves providing great service is even more critical than usual. Much like Santa, customers have their own naughty or nice list,” and they wont hesitate to give you the business equivalent of a stocking full of coal (i.e., taking their business somewhere else) if you make your way into the wrong column.

There’s no better time of the year than the holiday season to uplift your customers with great service. Unfortunately, theres also no easier time of the year to do or say exactly the wrong thing.

Often at the holidays companies find themselves overbooked and short-staffed. Supplies of popular items run out of stock. Departments arent prepared for the increased volume of customer inquiries and complaints. Employees are too distracted by holiday events or travel plans or shopping lists to give customers their full attention.

These practices are precisely what land companies on customers naughty lists. But usually, these are not isolated incidents. Instead, they are evidence of a bigger problem in the organizations overall service culture.

Holiday happiness and great service neednt be incompatible. In fact, one of the true forces driving the holidays is our desire to take care of the people we love. And thats whats at the core of uplifting service taking care of the needs and concerns of other people. When companies build a service culture that keeps this top of mind, theyll find themselves on the nice list every time.

What behaviors will banish you to their naughty lists?  Following are a few examples.

Specialize in the run-around. Doing business with a company should be a choice, not a chore. But unfortunately, many companies make receiving service very difficult for their customers.

Companies on the naughty list arent streamlined. Customers have to give the same information to one person after another as theyre passed from department to department seeking help. Departments are so siloed that customers can feel like they arent even talking to people who work at the same company.

Treat customers like a number. Have you ever been to a business, office, or other facility where you had to literally take a number and wait for it to show up on the electronic sign before receiving service? It doesnt feel so great, does it? Thats how customers feel when you dont bother to get to know them as individuals.

When you dont personalize service by taking the time to learn your customers names or implementing systems that remember their needs, you make customers feel like theyre just one of many. Theres no bond, nothing to make them feel any loyalty to you. Make one mistake and they will immediately go somewhere else.

Exhibit a the customers always wrong” mentality. The quickest way to land on the naughty list is to treat complaining customers like theyre ruining your day. This can mean anything from blame shifting to punishing” an unhappy customer by making the interaction even less pleasant than it already is.

Companies that dont have a solid service recovery program react to complaining customers by seeking to avoid blame. Employees point the finger at their colleagues or back at the customers themselves and say, “Its not my fault!” Theyre too focused on passing the buck to even take notice of the customers real needs. And to make it even worse, these companies tend to bog down customers even more by requiring a morass of receipts and time-consuming paperwork before they receive even a mediocre level of service.

Put unhappy, clock-watching employees in front of customers. Naughty companies hire employees who are interested only in working for a wage, and it shows.

For these companies, service with a smile is a pipe dream. More like service with a grimace! You know youre at a naughty company when a service representative wont look you in the eye, has no energy to smile and treats you like the service they provide is a chore. You might leave having received the product or service you need, but you wont leave feeling uplifted or wanting to return.

Put the bottom line on a pedestal. Some companies on the naughty list treat customers like a number; others treat customers like a dollar sign.

Companies that put the bottom line on a pedestal above their customers can make customers feel like theyre being tricked or swindled. They offer deals that arent backed by great service. Or run ads touting low-cost products that dont offer real satisfaction. Both parties may have completed a deal, but neither was uplifted by any lasting value.

How can you be sure to land on your customers nice lists? Following are a few tips.

Make it seamless. For many of your customers, the holiday season is the busiest time of the year. They will be shopping, ordering and asking more questions than ever across every possible channel: in person, over the phone, at their computers, on their mobile devices, at work, in their cars and from home.

When you provide integrated, smooth service across channels, youre making your customers lives a lot easier. From Web to email to ATM, to counter to SMS to phone calls, to social platforms and home deliveries, when all information about your customers accumulates and moves seamlessly, then your customers can get what they need from you quickly and get back to doing everything else in their lives.

Customize for your customers. Sure, your customers know they arent your only customer, but that doesnt mean they dont want to be treated that way. Personalized service makes people feel special.

When you offer options, choices, range and variety, and create more value through customization and personalization, your customers will feel like theyre your favorite. Implement processes that allow you to recall your customers questions, preferences and choices in all future interactions. Then customize your offers and suggestions for their next visit or purchase. This increases your value each time a customer comes to you, and helps you become the vendor, store, or supplier they are glad to talk about and comfortable recommending to others.

Say Yes!” to service recovery. Companies on the nice list know that great service recovery turns oops” into opportunities. Dont treat customer complaints like theyre annoying or a waste of time. Instead, be grateful when unhappy customers give you a chance to win back their business. Why? Because for every customer who does complain, there are several others who had the same problem, but didnt give you a second chance.

Companies that “get” service recovery understand when a customer complains, he is really telling you what he values. If he says you werent fast enough, he values speed. If he says hes tired of not being able to get anyone on the phone, he values human interaction. “Nice” companies quickly seek to identify what complaining customers value. And then they make sure that employees are empowered to make amends and offer an appropriately generous and valuable new action.

Remember that happy (engaged) employees = service with a smile. Especially during the holidays, it can feel like the businesses, stores and restaurants we frequent have been invaded by employee drones. Many service providers seem exhausted, frazzled and too overwhelmed to do anything more than provide the minimum service to keep customers moving along.

Companies on the nice list know how important employees both customer-facing and non-customer-facing are to providing uplifting service. Your employees should be switched on and energized by their role at your company. When theyre clearly aligned, vigorously supported and joyfully connected to the brand, to colleagues and to customers, then job satisfaction fuels customer satisfaction in a virtuous cycle.

Weave yourself into the fabric of the community. Uplifting service works because it makes everyone feel good, from employees to customers to other community members. When your company plays a socially responsible role in the community, then good feelings of service spread farther, and employees want to provide great service because it is so gratifying.

When your company contributes and participates in the wider community, uplifting the commercial, civil, cultural, environmental and economic ecosystems, people notice. Theyll want to give you business because they know you give right back to their community. Being your customer makes them feel like theyre contributing, too. Many companies do this with local sports team sponsorships, school internship opportunities, highway and park adoption schemes, and other neighborhood development programs.

What companies should be asking themselves now is, How can we make sure were on our customers nice lists?” Theres no better time of the year to assess your companys service culture. What are your customers experiencing today? What will they expect from you tomorrow? Are you ahead of your competitors, or lagging behind?

When you commit to creating an uplifting service culture where everyone is fully engaged, encouraging each other, improving the customer experience, making the company more successful and contributing to the community at large, youll spend every holiday season on your customers nice lists. And you will reap the benefits year-round.

Ron Kaufman is a columnist at Bloomberg Businessweek and the author of “Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet.” A popular keynote speaker, he is the founder of UP! Your Service, a global service education and management consultancy firm with offices in the United States and Singapore.

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