The best way to ensure lasting results from a customer service initiative is with a comprehensive, organized approach, if you have the option. Which is why, in customer service consulting and among customer experience consultants, we always recommend you first work on getting your framework right, before going forward and attacking the details.
But life, and business, don’t always work so tidily: Sometimes as a business leader you just want to get started, and you need to know where to start to get things off the ground yourself—today.
So here are some places to get started on your own customer experience initiative, rather than being paralyzed by the sense of too much to do, in too little time.
1 Phone manners: Do you have customer interaction standards for telephone communications? You don’t? Then that’s where you should start. Great companies have very specific telephone and and customer interaction standards (although they allow great latitude in how they are interpreted). If you’re just winging it on the phone, it’s time to work on that.
2 What does your front entrance look like? This is another high-value place to start. First (and last) impressions, because of the way a customer’s memory works, are disproportionately important. So let me ask you: Do you even come in the front entrance at your business like your customers have to, or do you use a dedicated employee entrance? Do you park where your customers park, fighting for a space the way they have to, or do you use your special/accustomed parking spot every day? If not, you probably don’t notice the cigarette butts outside, the handicapped access that isn’t, actually, accessible, the wilting flowers and so forth. It’s time to notice, and to fix them.
3 What about the customer’s experience before the front entrance? First impressions often happens before what you intend as the first impression: Getting lost en route to your office because the address on your website is out of date, coming too early or too late to be served because your hours are posted incorrectly by Google Places or Yelp? (The customer will blame you, not Google, not Yelp, for the inconvenience, so get these fixed before a customer shows up at your front door, ticked off for reasons you aren’t even aware of.
4 Figuratively speaking, how’s the experience of “entering” your website? Is log-in easy? (If login is even necessary.) Is your site accessible for customers and prospects with visual and other disabilities? Do your contact forms actually go to someone who reads them — within the hour? (They should.) This is another good place to start: log in as if you’re a customer (don’t use your internal override) and try out your site. I don’t care if you already did this last year. That was a long, long time ago, and entropy is a bitch.
5 What about before a customer even gets to your website? What are people saying about you online that may be incorrect, confusing, off-putting to potential customers? I know a great hotel company that for over a year (over a year!) made a terrible first impression on TripAdvisor because the first thing one saw were reviews of a de-flagged hotel that was no longer in their chain (for reasons that were obvious from those reviews). This was never addressed with or on TripAdvisor because nobody was checking out what the actual first impression of guests and potential guests was online.
5 Listen to (and fix) the stories that managers and employees tell around your company: are they sabotaging your attempts at a customer-centered culture? Are the stories you hear around the office often centered on how customers tried to take advantage, and how you stopped those customers dead in their tracks? They shouldn’t be (unless you’re a security firm, and even then, maybe not). They should be stories that go in the opposite direction: about how you went the extra mile, or susie went the extra mile, to help a customer in a creative way. Otherwise, you can do all the mission-statementizing you want, but employees will know where you really stand: in opposition to the customers.
6 Start having a daily (or at least weekly) standup customer service meeting, 5 or 10 minutes long. Start this tradition today. OK, don’t call it a standup meeting (it’s discriminatory against people with disabilities, illnesses, and injuries, IMO) and don’t start it today, start it as soon as you can get buy-in from the people in your company who will have to support this process over the weeks and years. But it’s a crucial part of getting your team on the same page and keeping them there. Have a different employee each day discuss a different tenet of your customer service philosophy and customer service issues that come up. In the course of a year, the amount of training you’ll get in is extraordinary, as well as greatly enhancing your team spirit. This, by the way, is how the Ritz-Carlton has done it for decades, and it works for them.
7 Overhaul your hiring practices: This is also one you’re not going to overhaul today, literally speaking. But you can push toward overhauling them today. And there’s no other place you can start that will make more of a difference. Do you hire scientifically, or do you hire like you spice your food–a bit of salt, a bit of pepper, a bit of whimsy and gut feeling here and there… if you hire haphazardly, the results you’ll get are haphazard. (Here’s where you can read more on this crucial subject.)