Counselor Commentary: Three Rules For Better Service

Improve Your Standing

Dave VagnoniThere are no good words to describe the frustration that comes from dealing with a clueless customer service rep. Somehow these reps always have slow computers, their idea of a brief phone hold is 15 minutes and they need a supervisor to approve the simplest of fixes. Part of you wants to feel sorry for these people – they’re obviously poorly trained, not cut out for the job, or both. Really, though, you just want to be done with them.

The topic of bad service always seems to creep into the news cycle, but was a little more conspicuous this week following the latest release of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The measure takes stock of how people feel about major industries and tends to be a pretty good judge of company sentiment.

The newest data focuses on retailers and raised some eyebrows, especially with the embarrassingly awful results of Walmart. The world’s largest retailer was hit with its lowest customer satisfaction score since 2007, falling far behind competitors like Target. Yes, that would be the same Target that let hackers steal credit card data from about 40 million customers just 14 months ago.

One of the reasons Walmart ranked at the bottom in satisfaction is because its employees are viewed by the public as unhelpful, unknowledgeable and generally miserable. Of course, there are certainly good Walmart employees, but not nearly enough. The perception of workers at Costco or Nordstrom – which not coincidentally rank high in customer satisfaction – is that they’re more cheerful and informed. At this point, it would be really trite to suggest your company should be less like Walmart and more like Costco in its service. So instead, here are three rules that will hopefully get you thinking about improving your standing.

Rule #1: Pay your customer service reps more money than they’d get at a comparable job in your area. Unless your perks are out of this world (like covering 100% of health care costs), you need to bump up the wages. If you balk at this one, remember that surveys show Walmart pays employees, on average, less than fast-food workers. It’s a message Walmart must have received loudly and clearly, as it announced this morning that it will increase the pay of 500,000 of its workers to at least $9 an hour, $1.75 above today’s federal minimum wage.

Rule #2: Empower your reps to solve problems on the spot. There should be no “I need to check with my manager” or “let me get back to you” or “I have to transfer you to someone else.” Train your staffers to deal with scenarios and then back them up when they make a call. If you don’t like their decisions, then you taught them wrong or you hired poorly.

Rule #3: Don’t make it a policy to under-promise and over-deliver. Your strategy should be to guarantee the best service possible and then deliver it beyond the expectations of your customers. Thank your clients for their interest, listen to what they have to say, and make your answer “yes” as close to 100% of the time as possible.

And here’s a bonus tip: If someone calls your company, they better be able to talk to a person right away. Nobody wants to hear an automated message from a service whose options have recently changed. That’s exactly when most customers are simply hanging up.