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Message
Customers First
START BY LISTENING AND YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN

Improving customer service is probably near the top of every good manager’s to-do list. Whether your customers are in-house or off the street the happier they are with the goods and services you provide, the easier your life is going to be. Companies and organizations that already have good customer service records have learned a few basic principles, primary amongst them is some concept of putting the customers first.

Brian W. Pascal
President
These organizations have the customers placed firmly at the top of their priorities pyramid and make sure that everyone in the organization has that business goal always in sight when making operational or administrative decisions. They have also developed a number of practices that help support this goal. Some of these include building relationships and not just business with their customers, going the extra mile for their clients, and giving all of their employees the ability to resolve customer complaints. They also have developed feedback loops to measure the quality of service and a capacity to not only listen but respond quickly to requests for improvement.

One company that followed through on all these steps was Canadian owned Delta Hotels. In 1999 they gave every employee in their hotels and resorts the power to resolve customer complaints. That program was called Power to Please and it gave front line Delta employees the authority to address customer needs quickly and effectively – on the spot. All employees were empowered by Delta to offer complimentary meals, free room nights and enhanced amenities as service recovery if guests' needs were not met.

Employees like maids and bell hops and cashiers proudly wore buttons that said, “I have the Power to Please” and knew that if a customer approached them they had the green light from management to take the initiative and make that customer happy. A powerful message that still resonates with both employees and the hotel’s customers. Hey, I still remember it seven years later.

Any business or organization can improve customer service once they choose to focus on that aspect of their business operations. Just by paying attention you begin to start that process but if you want to kick start your own customer first program then you can begin right away. Start by targeting a couple of your clients or customers and offer them a special deal or added service for free or at a reduced cost. You are not looking for anything in return except to keep their business but don’t be surprised if your base account grows anyway.

Check in with a few of your customers, in person or by telephone. Ask them how you are doing and if they have any suggestions for improvement in the services your provide. They may be surprised and not think of anything right away, but after a few days you will get a call back to either thank you for the call or to make a recommendation for improvement. If you can make it happen, do it right way, if not then explain why. Either way you will have built a relationship and not just business.

Talk to your front line staff. Ask them what their challenges are in maintaining good customer service and if they can suggest any improvements. How you treat your customer service people is how they will treat others and just by engaging in a dialogue with them you will start to see improvements in how they deal with clients or customers. These staff always have suggestions that can make their job and your life easier. Discard the ones that are too costly or ineffective and then take the ones that make the most sense and try them out.

Your customers and clients always know what they want and need from you so make sure you take the time to listen to them. That doesn’t mean that the customer is always right but if you want to keep their business then you have to at least listen to their comments, suggestions, and complaints.

What most of us have realized after many years of working for clients and customers is that customers can be right at the same time as they are loud, obnoxious, boring and offensive. No one has to tolerate abusive behaviour, even from the people who pay the bills. Putting customers first doesn’t mean that you or your staff has to put up with this. In some cases you can fire the customer or client by deciding not to do business with them. In others it may mean a heart to heart chat with their manager to straighten things out. Let your staff know where the line is that nobody is allowed to cross and then focus your energies on getting better clients or customers who will respect you as you put them and their needs first.


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