5 Principles of Customer Care

by Vasudha Deming

Over the past 15 years, Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems has worked with many orga­ni­za­tions to help estab­lish a cul­ture of world-class ser­vice. The prin­ci­ples out­lined here are key to that endeavor, regard­less of industry.

Of course, it's dif­fi­cult to pare down to only five prin­ci­ples — cer­tainly there are more that could be con­sid­ered. But this should pro­vide a good start­ing point for any­one try­ing to build and main­tain a strong cus­tomer care cul­ture in their own organization.

Skills vs. Principles

Before address­ing some core prin­ci­ples of cus­tomer care, I just want to dis­tin­guish them from the con­cept of skills. There are some essen­tial skills that should be demon­strated by any­one in a front-line cus­tomer care posi­tion, but for now let's focus on some key prin­ci­ples that are rel­e­vant to any­one who man­ages or trains a cus­tomer care team as well as to the cus­tomer care rep­re­sen­ta­tives themselves.

Cus­tomer Care Prin­ci­ple #1: To Cus­tomers, Front-Line Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Are the Company.

Cus­tomers don't usu­ally know or see what goes on behind the scenes, so their opin­ion of your orga­ni­za­tion stems from "cus­tomer touch­points." These cus­tomer touch­points occur any time a cus­tomer comes in con­tact with your com­pany and uses that expe­ri­ence to form an impres­sion of our organization.

Front-line employ­ees — whether they're com­mu­ni­cat­ing face-to-face, on the tele­phone, or via e-mail—are in direct and con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with your cus­tomers. An invest­ment in the skills and knowl­edge of these employ­ees is very much an invest­ment in the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence.

Cus­tomer Care Prin­ci­ple #2: Employee Sat­is­fac­tion Matters!

Stud­ies have shown that a strong link exists between employ­ees' job sat­is­fac­tion and the qual­ity of cus­tomer ser­vice those employ­ees pro­vide. No sur­prise there!

Cus­tomer care — whether that means sell­ing shoes or fix­ing servers — is an intrin­si­cally reward­ing pro­fes­sion. Sim­ply put, it feels good to be of ser­vice to some­one, to make some­thing good hap­pen to another per­son. This is the kind of atti­tude that moti­vates employ­ees to cre­ate a strong cul­ture of cus­tomer care, but it doesn't typ­i­cally hap­pen unless the employ­ees them­selves feel val­ued by their com­pany and sat­is­fied with their jobs.

It may sound obvi­ous, but it's worth not­ing: If employ­ees aren't sat­is­fied on the job, they're usu­ally not moti­vated to demon­strate a high level of cus­tomer care; at best, they'll do just enough to get by.

Cus­tomer Care Prin­ci­ple #3: Show Cus­tomers They're Val­ued; Don't Assume They Know It.

The third key prin­ci­ple of cus­tomer care is to show cus­tomers that they're val­ued by your com­pany. Many orga­ni­za­tions make the mis­take of assum­ing that cus­tomers know this and don't need to be explic­itly told.

Of course, the most impor­tant aspect of show­ing cus­tomers that they're val­ued is to take care of their need or request in a timely, effi­cient, and cor­rect man­ner. At each and every cus­tomer touch­point, employ­ees should main­tain a mind­set of earn­ing the busi­ness and trust of cus­tomers, never tak­ing it for granted.

But cus­tomers have needs that go beyond the "trans­ac­tion." They want to be appre­ci­ated and respected. They want to feel that your company's cus­tomer care phi­los­o­phy is just that: care.

So, it doesn't hurt to tell them directly. Before end­ing a call or a face-to-face visit, employ­ees should take a moment to tell the cus­tomer that their busi­ness is appre­ci­ated. It can go a long way!

Cus­tomer Care Prin­ci­ple #4: Inter­nal Cus­tomer Care is as Impor­tant as Exter­nal Cus­tomer Care.

All too often, com­pa­nies place a strong empha­sis on exter­nal cus­tomer care while los­ing sight of the fact that inter­nal cus­tomers mat­ter just as much. Why? Because some­where down the line, the ser­vice pro­vided to an inter­nal cus­tomer will show up in an exter­nal cus­tomer transaction.

An inter­nal cus­tomer is any employee who depends on the tim­ing, qual­ity and accu­racy of a colleague's work in order for them to suc­ceed in their own work.

What I've seen is that those orga­ni­za­tions in which a cus­tomer care cul­ture is truly embed­ded do not make dis­tinc­tions about inter­nal and exter­nal care. Each employee's mis­sion is sim­ply to demon­strate excel­lence with each and every task.

Cus­tomer Care Prin­ci­ple #5: Train Your Staff to Deliver Great Cus­tomer Service—and Hold Them Accountable.

You can't expect peo­ple to per­form to expec­ta­tions until you've given them the knowl­edge and skills to do just that. If you're seri­ous about embrac­ing a cul­ture of cus­tomer care, you need to edu­cate employ­ees as to what this notion "looks like" on the job.

It shouldn't be taken for granted that employ­ees know what goes into good cus­tomer ser­vice (inter­nal or exter­nal). They may have some good instincts and they may each take cer­tain mea­sures that they per­son­ally feel will pro­vide good ser­vice, but this hope­ful and hodge­podge approach isn't enough. Pro­vid­ing train­ing in both your company's cus­tomer care phi­los­o­phy and in their job-specific ser­vice skills is a huge and all-important first step.

Once employ­ees have been trained, it's essen­tial for them to be held account­able for putting their cus­tomer care skills into prac­tice on the job. This, of course, means strong and con­sis­tent coach­ing on an ongo­ing basis.

Finally, once you've trained employ­ees and held them account­able for putting their cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing into prac­tice on the job, be sure to reward them for their success!

Posted on April 28, 2010

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