Great Customer Service in Challenging Times

By Jeremiah Wilson

American workplace morale is lower than at any time in modern history. Your employees are probably doing the work of at least one or two former colleagues, who were either not replaced during the recession or just plain laid off.

And yet, in the midst of all this chaos, you are trying to differentiate yourself from your competitors. How do you do it? You have to control the only thing you can control: customer service.

The Reality

The recession exposed businesses that have poor customer service, and spotlighted those that have legendary customer service. The difference between the customer service haves and have-nots is greater than ever.

“If anything, the tough economy has made starker the difference between companies that put customers first and those that sacrifice loyalty for short-term gain,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek pointed out.

In other words, the recession made the customer service rich even richer, while it rendered the customer service poor, poorer. Customer service is more important than ever.

The Specifics: Providing Epic Customer Service in Challenging Times

Customer service is the “big thing” that can make you different. How do you begin to improve your customer interactions right now? What do you need to teach your employees? How can you do better?

1. Culture — Have you made it crystal clear to your employees that customer service is THE preeminent focus of your business? Do your employees have an attitude of “owning” every single problem?

Do you demand your employees do everything — absolutely everything — to keep the customer happy? Here’s the ultimate question: If we asked your employees to define your company’s focus, would they say customer service?

2. Attitude — This is the most important element of excellent customer service. Every employee must have an attitude of “owning” every problem. Every problem. You must personally follow the problem through to the end.

3. It Is Your Job — If you’re a manager or executive and you get a call about an issue that isn’t in your job description, your first reaction may be, “This isn’t my job.” After all, you don’t know anything about the question they’re asking.  This isn’t your job, right?


Helping them is your job! So help them. If you can’t fix the problem, find someone who can.

4. Focus On the “Can,” Not the “Can’t” — Never, ever, ever say “I can’t,” or “I’m not allowed.” Focus on how you can help the customer. Make sure your employees know they can get creative to fix the problem. They can go talk to a manager, make an exception if possible, make phone calls to business partners to help them, even to competitors if they have to — whoever! Enable them to help the customer no matter what!

5. Empower Your Employees — Give them the authority to keep the customer happy, no matter what. Give your employees the authority to discount product(s) if someone is upset. Give them the authority to fix a problem whenever one arises. Empowering your employees gives them the tools to provide legendary customer service.

Control What You Can Control

It costs four to five times as much money and resources to bring in a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. What’s the best way to retain your customers? You guessed it! Customer service! You can’t merely “hope” for loyalty. You have to work to ensure it.

And the only way to ensure customer loyalty is through customer service.

Jeremiah Wilson founded ContactPoint in 2001 with a patented device that records customer phone calls, allowing companies to hear what their customers hear. Prior to that, he specialized in logistics, customer service and sales training, and was assistant to the counselor of economics at the U.S. Embassy to the Czech Republic; he currently serves on the board of directors for various global companies.
Originally published: Oct 4, 2011

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