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.
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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!