Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Improving customer service and support by improving employee recognition and support

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on July 20, 2016

Customer service can be good and even excellent. Some businesses make it a part of their basic business model and business culture, to be positive and helpful to customers and potential customers. Some businesses actively take a customer service approach that can be summarized as “if you need help I will do what I can, and I will find someone here who can help you if I can’t.” That might mean finding someone with particular expertise or a necessary level of decision making authority, such as a manager. That can mean bringing in a colleague who has the time to offer direct and immediate help now, where the employee asked first is already taking care of other customers or otherwise time-committed. And for many businesses, the approach that I suggest here is more a cartoon representation of an ideal than it is a reflection of actual day-to-day reality – and even if that type of approach is officially the one in place that is supposed to be adhered to.

How do you fix this problem, when failures in supportive and appreciative customer service become the real-world norm for a business and its staff? I offer a few pieces of that puzzle here as the core message of this posting:

1. Spell out good customer service and customer relations policy in writing and explicitly set them as goals to reach, and as goals that hold meaning and importance to all. And couch it in terms of the positive value that this gives to the customer, the business as a whole, and to the employees who do seek to do the right thing here.
2. Post this policy where everyone – employees and customers alike can see it.
3. Go beyond the abstract and the nice-sounding of this customer service approach by making it possible to follow in day-to-day practice. That means, among other things, giving perhaps harried employees permission and support to stop to answer a customer question, and permission to pass a problem on to others, and even up the table of organization to their supervisor or manager if their help is required.
4. Make your good customer service policy practical by giving employees the resources they need in order to follow it.
5. Among other things this means giving them access to the information that they would need if they are to actually help customers, and in ways that would limit their time away from their more usual tasks as they sought it out.
6. Instill this basic customer first approach into the business culture, and not just in employee policy documents that no one ever reads. (How many employees ever even see let alone read personnel policy documents?) And make it clear that everyone from the newest non-managerial employee to the CEO has it as an assigned task to at least try to be helpful and nice – and even if that means politely saying that something isn’t going to be possible. Everyone there should see this as one of their responsibilities at work to at least point a customer with a problem in the direction of someone who can resolve it – and without having to just make up a “reasonable sounding” answer.

But none of this does or can achieve the goal of showing the customer respect and consideration, if the employees and managers tasked with following it see themselves as unappreciated and unsupported for what they do. Ultimately, if you really want to make this type of system work, and here I am addressing this comment to business owners and executives, you have to treat your employees and managers with that same level of respect and support too. And that is only partly addressed by offering competitive salary and benefits packages. This, bottom line, is all about how you treat your employees as people – and how you instill that into your business systems. Employees who are treated with respect and consideration, treat others that way too: customers included. Employees who are taken for granted, and employees who always see themselves as being at risk if they do not reach their goals and every time, every day, do not – and in a fundamental sense cannot be supportive of anyone else in their rush to reach their goals. They do not have the resources that they would need to be nice and thoughtful, or to “take that extra step” in being helpful to others.

And too many businesses take their employees for granted – and then perhaps wonder why their customers feel the repercussions – the backlash from all of this.

I offer this as a brief but still significant thought piece. You can find this and related postings and series at HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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