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The Business Forum
Customer Service Excellence
Executives High Payoff Activity
Thomas R. Northup
In our new normal world, competition
has intensified. Customer service has taken on magnified importance.
Companies have only three ways to
internally grow their business, all of which involve that one element no
organization can live without: customers. They can:
Increase the number of customers
Increase the average value of a sale
Increase the purchase frequency
We often equate giving good service
with creating customer satisfaction. However, excellence in customer service
is about creating customer loyalty. Knowing the difference between
satisfaction and loyalty is the first step in developing customer focused
excellence in your organization.
Are you happy with the service you
receive when you make a purchase? In the rush to outsource, companies often
fail to give customers the service they want. This effort to cut costs
contributes to the popular opinion that service is dramatically decreasing.
What long term effect will that impression have on future business from
those less than satisfied customers?
A Common Scenario
Many executives think that the sales
department is responsible for taking care of customers. In reality all
company departments interact with customers.
Many companies rely on low-paid
employees who are often hired based on criteria that place little importance
on relationship skills. For example:
the receptionist is the first contact and sets the tone for future
discussion, many companies treat him or her as little more than a person
who gets phone calls to the right department.
customer service coordinates quality, quantity, shipping and delivery
issues, many companies are more concerned with getting customers off the
phone quickly than with helping them.
Customer requests frequently require
input from various departments. Employees with this responsibility may not
be well equipped to handle these contacts. How often do we hear:
�I asked production for the
information but they didn�t get it to me; what can I do?�
�I hate to hassle Joe. He
is so busy and can be rude to me.�
One department works hard to make a
sale and then in follow up communication employees in another department put
their own agenda first and forget to make customers feel special. The result
is missed, incomplete, rude and even inaccurate communication.
Many companies say that it�s their
people that set them apart. In reality it�s their �friendly� people that set
them apart. People much prefer interacting with friends even when all else
is not quite equal.
Customers contact a company because
they need help. When the company doesn�t give customers the help they
expect, the need still exists but the customer is now mad. Excellent
customer service is about giving memorable service. Do we want customers�
memories to be positive or negative?
Memorable customer service is achieved
through employees who are positive, smile sincerely, are friendly and build
rapport. A company first achieves these attributes by hiring the right
people. In many cases, even the right people need to learn the many skills
necessary to create customer loyalty. We must be prepared to train people in
the appropriate skills and develop their effectiveness.
Effective executive�s understand that
their company culture, which is primarily created by leadership, is the key
to developing memorable experiences and strong customer loyalty. Studies
show that culture affects performance by as much as 30%.
These execs don�t just focus on
customer loyalty. They create a positive corporate culture by building a
productive and enjoyable work environment in all aspects of the business.
When employees understand the importance of their job and appreciate the
responsibilities of other team members, their individual accomplishments
transform into team accomplishments.
When employees are honest with each
other they can have constructive conversations in a trusting atmosphere.
They make significant improvements in their skill levels and become more
Honest and open trusting communications
are easy to define but hard to develop. Effective executives make building a
positive culture a priority through these high payoff activities:
organization is constructed in a pyramid with management at the top.
Requests and directives flow down. Employees carry them out.
executives understand that this pyramid should be inverted because it is the
employees who understand their jobs in detail. When management shares power,
it supports employee requests that flow upward.
allows employees to participate in the development of their job parameters
and builds intellectual and emotional commitment. As people are part of the
solution they become change initiators not change detractors.
must understand the key success factors in customer service and other areas
of the business and make these core competencies throughout the
organization. They must establish written standards addressing these core
accountability. It is important to develop measurement criteria for
these areas. Employees want to know how they are progressing. If the
company can�t measure performance it has no way to determine how well it
is meeting the standard it wants to achieve.
company must recognize that many employees don�t have appropriate
customer service skills. They need training to become more effective.
Provide training and then evaluate the results to measure effectiveness.
effective executives understand that everything counts. They don�t say
�Do as I say, not as I do.� They become positive role models.
Customers are the life blood of every
organization. We often think of satisfaction when we use the term customer
service. A satisfied customer can be neutral and still shop. Build loyalty
in customers by providing excellence in service.
Our customer�s perception is reality.
When we talk about excellence we are using our word. Instead, we want to
build a memorable customer experience.
Friendly employees are best able to
build memorable perceptions and loyal customers. Everyone wants to feel
appreciated. When we are a customer we appreciate timely and constructive
answers to our questions. Being friendly facilitates memorable outcomes.
An executive�s high payoff activity is
to build a company-wide core competency in service that generates loyal
customers who have a memorable experience. He does this by supporting his
team and sharing power with them. He establishes criteria and measurements
for evaluation. He understands that training and development are both key to
changing employee behaviors and attitudes. He looks at training and
development as an investment, not a cost. He understands that it�s his
responsibility to create a positive ROI from this effort. He builds a
supportive atmosphere where employees are encouraged to take initiative and
not wait until told to act. He is a role model.
The bottom line: Companies that are
customer friendly and build loyalty and memorable customer experiences build
unfair competitive advantage in their market place.
If you would like to explore
strategic transformation, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the
state of your business.
I will ask you to complete
three assessments that evaluate your organization strategically, in
leadership and personal productivity. This is your commitment to a focused
high quality interchange.
There is no obligation. We
will meet as long as necessary to have an in depth review. My objective is
to first build our relationship. If we agree to continue working together,
great, if not then my hope is that our discussion will lead you to
Thomas R. Northup
is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is a nationally
recognized management expert, consultant, speaker and coach. He is
the author of the book, The Five Hidden Mistakes CEOs Make. How
to Unlock the Secrets and Drive Growth and Profitability.
Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times best-seller,
What Got You Here Won�t Get You There, said about Five
Mistakes �Gleaned from years of success as a CEO in his own right,
Tom Northup masterfully provides practical wisdom and tools to move
senior leaders beyond the status quo to help them see what they need
to see, not just what they want to see.� Tom is the former CEO and
principal of three successful companies and he understands the
business complexities faced by today�s busy executives. He is
experienced in high growth situations, new product start-ups,
strategic planning, market analysis, team operations, and
turn-around/reorganization. Today, through coaching, consulting,
mentoring, and training, Tom works side-by-side with clients to
build capabilities that increase revenue and profitability year
after year and develop �unfair competitive advantage.� Tom graduated
with a BS in Mathematics from Bucknell University and has an MBA
from Syracuse University. He is an active with the Forum for
Corporate Directors, the Institute of Management Consultants and
runs a CEO roundtable at the Irvine Chamber of Commerce. In
addition to his book he has written many articles on management that
have been published throughout the world and writes a
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