Customer service is one of the most neglected aspects of business management. Moreover, according to a 2013 study conducted by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, declining customer service in the United States is an alarming trend. The percentage of customers reporting problems, which increased 13 percent between 1976 and 2011, jumped an additional 5 percent between 2011 and 2013. Obviously, American businesses are failing to keep customers happy and need strategies to reverse the trend.
On the surface, customer service seems to be a straightforward process that handles itself somewhat naturally when a business is functioning as it should. Nevertheless, life is quirky and unpredictable, and even the most well-oiled machines develop problems from time to time. Businesses that fail to understand and prepare for this reality inevitably lose face and eventually customers. According to an article on Nexxt, 85 percent of unhappy customers retaliate against a business for bad customer service. In the 18 to 34 year-old age group, this retaliation often comes in the form of posting to social media sites with the potential to reach hundreds of the unsatisfied customer’s online friends.
Customer service professionals are key to providing the kind of customer experience that gets noticed in the right way. In his 1991 classic,“The Customer Driven Company,” R.C. Whiteley states convincingly that the focus of all business is to “saturate your company with the voice of the customer.” In other words, listening to what the customer has to say is the key to success. However, to listen effectively, customer service professionals must be able to silence their innate defensive reaction to customer complaints. This becomes easier if employers provide employees with the tools to respond to negativity in a positive way.
In the March 19, 2014 edition of Newsweek, the article “Cashing in on Kindness” discusses how scientists are searching for ways to enable employees to respond to workplace negativity with kindness and compassion toward others and themselves. One result of this research is a program developed in conjunction with the Dali Lama by Stanford University School of Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which focuses on techniques for collaboration, resilience and meditation. Some of its techniques, such as putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and forgiving yourself for your mistakes, may seem simplistic. Nevertheless, they work for customer service applications. Other strategies from the Dali Lama include concentrating on your breathing for five seconds before responding to an angry customer and focusing on the emotion behind a customer's angry words.
Customer service is a difficult profession, particularly in the 21st century's business environment of dwindling resources and increased employer demands. Learning to see the customer as a human being in need of a assistance and responding with compassion rather than defensiveness is an important step in resolving conflict in a way that works for everyone involved.
(Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)