Customer (lip) Service

articles Business

Ilya Adler

One of the oldest clichés in business is “the customer is always right.” And while this catchphrase might be repeated in every company training program, the reality is that most businesses fall short when it comes to customer satisfaction. In fact, most companies know very little about the experience their customers actually have with them. Businesses interested in improving their customer relations should examine how their employees are trained, and seek to compensate employees who must consistently deal with customers, for it is a complicated and often difficult task.

One major reason why companies often fail in customer satisfaction is that employees can easily see customers as a “pain” and “unreasonably demanding,” causing “too much work.” In short, they see the customer as their enemy. There are companies where the belief that customers are irritating is so pervasive that it is never even questioned. I am always astonished by how often I hear employees talk to one another about “difficult customers” without realizing that I, another customer, can hear them.

The problem is difficult to tackle, and it takes a lot more than repeating a well-known cliché. Some consultants recommend formal training, in which employees receive an intensive awareness course on how easily they can fall into the trap of seeing customers as their enemies, repeating ad nauseam that their livelihood depends on the customers they dislike so much.

While these training programs do help, they are not sufficient. One often overlooked aspect is the wage level for employees who must constantly deal with customers. I was recently on a flight in which the suitcases arrived an hour after the plane had landed. Customers were irritated, and one airline employee had to endure a barrage of furious customers shouting at her. At one point, she asked a fellow employee, “Do you think I deserve this for the money they pay?”

So, lesson number one: Those dealing directly with customers should be paid well. Happy customers require happy employees.

Making customers happy also means knowing what they want, but most companies do little to invite customers to make comments. At best there might be a suggestion box, hidden in a corner somewhere. Nowadays an email address is offered for submitting complaints and suggestions, but more often than not, no one answers them. Soliciting customer satisfaction should be done routinely in ways that are easier for the customer. Options could include making a follow-up phone call a day after they have made a purchase or asking customers to make comments as they leave your place of business. On the other hand, it is equally important to assure your employees that customers are not always right. Some customers overreact or become difficult in certain situations. Employees should be made aware of the appropriate ways to deal with any number of circumstances. The emphasis of customer service should be to always treat clients with respect, whether they are right or not.

To live by the erroneous philosophy that “customers are always right” leads organizations to spend more time and effort on those customers who are over-demanding. In doing so, they ignore the more reasonable customers who are, in the long run, more important. Not allowing employees to use logical discretion will decrease morale and foster a cynical view of this cliché. In turn, your overall service quality will plummet and customers will flock elsewhere.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2001 by Ilya Adler © 2008
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