Customer Service

L. Douglas Mault

April 2006

When a business owner or senior manager thinks of customer service, it is too easy to make the mistake of thinking of it as a department or a function as opposed to thinking of it as a key responsibility. It is often said that an organization will take on the characteristics of the leader, and if that’s true as I believe it to be, then the leader must set a standard and an example of true customer service.

That being the case, let’s focus on several aspects of customer service.

First, how do we measure customer service? There are mathematical and statistical models to do this but they are expensive and esoteric. For our purposes, here are three areas of measurement of customer service, which involve only common sense and are easy to use.

Quality of service to the customer. It doesn’t take a statistician to know whether or not you’re providing quality service to your customers. Ask them and ask your employees in such a way as to generate an honest response, not a preordained one in line with what you’d like to hear.

Service must fit/meet needs of the customer. This is easier said than done because it creates the burden of learning and understanding those needs. In a later article we’ll look at some effective ways of doing so.

Service must meet the standards established by you for your company. In many organizations there are the formal standards and the real world standards. In some situations the formal ones are the minimum and the real ones exceed those. In too many organizations the formal standards are the maximum and the real ones fall far short. In an ideal situation, the formal and real standards are identical and are very high.

Second, what are the key elements of effective customer service? Here are eight such elements:

Handle the basics. Focus on "blocking and tackling.” Don’t get caught up in fancy, acronym-laden programs unless you’ve mastered the basics.

Focus on meeting needs. You need to determine the needs of your customer.

Develop with the customer. It is likely that your biggest customer today was not your biggest five or 10 years ago. Keep pace.

Admit mistakes and fix them immediately. The time from a mistake to its rectification may be linear, but the customer’s ill feelings increase geometrically.

Everyone is a customer. Although this is not literally true, you should act as if it were.

Do whatever it takes within the bounds of legality, morality and good business practices to satisfy and keep your customer.

Service + Quality = Survival and Success

Strive for constant improvement. No matter how good you are or think you are, there’s always room for growth. And, if you don’t improve, your competitor will.

About the Author
L. Douglas Mault is president of the Executive Advisory Institute, Yakima, Wash.