Take advantage of your competitors [Archives:2005/804/Education]

January 6 2005

By Ms. Lakshmi Devi P K
Asst Brand Manager
Mam International Corporation
Sana'a – Yemen
[email protected]

Customer service, which is often discussed and rarely mastered business function, is presently in shambles. It is steadily getting worse and worse and consumers are becoming more and more agitated. Some industries are so lacking in customer service skills and ability that they are running the risk of getting a bad reputation.

What this means to any business is that there is a tremendous opportunity for any business that is able to master the fine art of delivering outstanding customer service on a consistent basis. If you can achieve this level of service, you will be hard to compete with. Your competitors will, in most cases, be unable to replicate your level of service because of several factors; 1) they have not hired or promoted enough high performing personnel, 2) their cultures are so deeply embedded that they usually give up before getting to the level they need to reach and 3) they just don't understand how to do it.

But delivering outstanding customer service on a consistent basis is hard work and it requires extreme discipline to accomplish. There must be a company-wide commitment and top management must insist on near perfection in delivering service to the company's customers. Again, most organizations cannot sustain a disciplined and well-managed effort to deliver outstanding service.

The basic prerequisite therefore is that you must first understand what is important to your customers. At a minimum, customers expect:

– to be treated with respect

– to be treated fairly

– the business to respond in a reasonable time frame

– products and services to be of high quality

– employees to be knowledgeable about the products and/or services being offered

– the business to deliver what was ordered or purchased and on time

– few or no mistakes in charges, billing, shipping, etc.

– employees to be friendly and courteous

– the business to rectify errors and problems in a timely and expedient manner

This “minimal expectations” list is virtually ignored by many business houses. Getting to these simple minimums can be a monumental task for some businesses. Delivering outstanding service means exceeding these minimal expectations on a consistent basis. Most businesses have large peaks and valleys in terms of how they deliver service. Or one area of the business does a decent job with customer service while another does a very poor job with it. Businesses that gain an edge in their battle with competitors understand that customer service is an organization-wide activity.

Delivering outstanding service begins with hiring professionals that have the inherent traits and skills to be able to function in a customer-focused culture. All too often, businesses hire people who have no idea how to deliver outstanding service. On the other hand, they put people with few people skills in heavy customer contact positions. Moreover, to compound matters, they establish few, if any, expectations, policies or procedures related to customer service. Bear in mind that training people who are not well suited to customer service activities will have little, if any, affect the level of service delivered.

In broad and simplistic terms, the following must be in place in order for your business to have chance at gaining a consistent and definitive edge against your competitor relative to customer satisfaction:

– Strong management

– A high percentage of high performing employees who are well-suited to the jobs they hold

– A real commitment to outstanding service

– Clear goals and objectives about customer service

– Reasonable, yet demanding expectations about serving customers

– Efficient processes

– Discipline about doing the right things the right way

– Clearly defined policies and procedures

– A system/organization-wide approach to customer service

– Action rather than lip service

– A very high level of accountability

Again this list represents minimum requirements for delivering outstanding service. Your organization must look internally to determine specific requirements that must be in place beyond the items on this list.

It is possible to gain an advantage over your competitors in terms of customer satisfaction. However, it requires hard work and lots of it. Does your business have what it takes to deliver outstanding service on a consistent basis?

Taking advantage of your competitors is important. To help ensure that you win the competitive battles that face your business, outstanding service must be delivered consistently.