Customer service. Or do we mean disservice?

All too often customer service is just the name of a department.

The UK doesn’t sparkle when it comes to customer service standards, especially in larger organisations. Since very high standards of service are close to my working heart, regular readers of this bog will have heard me gnash the collective Russell teeth about a number of bad service experience over the years. Quite a few involve telecoms companies, but are not confined to those. Recently I had to tweet to get a response from a large publishing company who produce employment law updates because they hadn’t sent me two updates and after three phone calls over several weeks to customer service, I had had no reply. Now they want to charge me £26 to send two new copies because I didn’t raise the matter within two weeks of not receiving them. It’s ridiculous, avaricious, incompetent and the antithesis of good customer service. In case you haven’t spotted it, I am seething.

I am not alone. Customers are often given very mixed messages. The words are usually honeyed and reassuring, the actions anything but. Take those perishing automated answering systems. Research suggests that consumers who fall into the clutches of those irritating “Push one if you’d like to talk to a dalek. Push two to listen to a lengthy and patronising message on a premium rate line about how important you are to us as a customer. Push three to get medication to reduce your dangerously high blood pressure after listening to this call” type lines is turning consumers into impatient, raging monsters. . If we weren’t steaming before, we certainly are by the time we reach anything resembling a human.

So many roles involve an element of customer service whether selling clothing, food or building materials, or a providing a service such as HR, dentistry or your weekly rubbish collection. Achieving good quality genuine customer service standards is important despite all the other paraphernalia of modern customer experiences. Good customer service meets or goes beyond a customer’s expectation and bad customer service leads to complaints and often a rant on Twitter. A high quality of service is now one of the few things that distinguishes your business from others. For the almost 20 years I have been running my business over 90 per cent of our work is consistently repeat or referred which speaks volumes about our own customer service.

Our line of work is all about talking to clients. We need to be able to establish what the client wants to achieve and communicate the best way to get that result, even if we sometimes have to give advice which is not what the client wanted to hear. We start by asking what the client wants to achieve and work back from there, asking questions along the way. Our client needs to trust that the advice that we give will get him to where he wants to be with as little risk as possible to him and the business. The first part of gaining that trust is talking to the client, building rapport and understanding the needs of his business.

We recently had a client with an employee who used to be very good at his job. Over the last year he became very short and snappy with the receptionist and a few clients complained that he was being rude. The client didn’t do anything about this to start with. As things got worse the client had an informal conversation with him. It didn’t seem to do any good. It got to the point where the third receptionist in 12 months said that he was rude and she wanted to leave the company. Nearly every customer said the same thing about him being rude and some started saying that they wouldn’t work with him again. Eventually the matter was resolved via a protected conversation.

How do you achieve great service in your organisation? Here are a few of our methods, but there are many more.

 Recruit people who are intrinsically quality driven to deliver personal high quality service. Identify, write down, communicate and live your core values. They should cover how customers, employees, and vendors should be treated at all times. Regularly reinforce your commitment to these values and live to these standards. Train, support, hire, and, if appropriate, use discipline to enforce what’s important to you.

I like this quote from Ray Davis, President and CEO of Umpqua Bank, the Pacific-Northwest-based U.S. retail bank that’s consistently top rated for service: ‘‘Maintaining a culture is like raising a teenager,’’.  Mr Davis says ‘‘You’re constantly checking in. What are you doing? Where are you going? Who are you hanging out with?’’ And, sometimes, you have to use some tough love when that teenager is acting up in ways that don’t support the culture you’re working to build.”

Generally most people know that good customer service involves being polite and actively helpful. Should a customer or client complain of bad customer service you will need to establish why it has happened. Is it a capability matter i.e. the employee doesn’t know about customer service, or is it a conduct matter i.e. that the employee has elected to give bad customer service? An investigation into it needs to take place. Most of the time bad customer service will be a conduct matter; it certainly was with the client mentioned above.

Rudeness to customers is listed as an act of gross misconduct in our policy but whether it is a dismissible offence will depend on the facts. Consider the bigger picture. Was it a one off? If so was the employee having a bad day or was he provoked? If the employee has long service and it has not happened before it may not be reasonable to dismiss depending on what the employee said or did.

About Kate Russell

The HR Headmistress, #employmentlaw trainer, HR advisor to business owners & HR professionals, author, speaker, green thumbed babe & whodunnits addict

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