Why, Oh Why Does Your Customer Service Suck / by Kia Jarmon

I have often been quoted as saying that customer service is your first line of (Public Relations) defense.  What people experience with your business will spread like wildfire whether it’s a great experience that I facebook about or as I type until my hands are bleeding with 10 + tweets discrediting your business.

Have you ever pulled into the drive thru of your favorite restaurant, with your mouth ready and your heart open to be greeted by the “angel of food” that will magically fill your order through a metal box only to be disappointed with the deep sigh and attitude filled greeting of “Can I Help You?” (insert eye and neck roll even though you can’t see them).

This happens EVERYDAY and quite frankly I’m over it.  Why is it such a big deal?  Because 1) it messes up my spirit as I came in happy and while I won’t let your attitude irritate my entire day I am now a little confused why you’re so mad about life AND 2) it sets a bad tone for my feelings and creates angst about your business.  I think I speak for a few (hundred) people when I say we often leave these establishments wondering why the heck did you come to work?! We then quickly erase our like for them in our hearts, wallets, and facebook/twitter.  I mean honestly I can keep my money or use it somewhere else!

Why is customer service so important?  It is a sure fire way to see exactly who your target audience is, what their front line issues are, and can often set the pace for a long standing relationship or an immediate firing before hiring.   If you own a store front shop most days the most effort you have to put into your customer service is a nice phone greeting and more than a ‘hello’ when someone walks through the door.  When you give your customer attention and a quality experience they are likely to check in via foursquare, spend a little more money, and encourage others to do the same.  So why the heck can’t you do that?  On the other hand…treat them badly and it will answer the question “have you seen someone “go off” via twitter?” about their cable service, phone service, computer or the like?  That could be you in a matter of seconds.  Social media makes it VERY easy for your customer service to be magnified; good, bad, or indifferent.  So to the horrible sales associate who sees ME walking aimlessly and doesn’t help I am not only telling everyone I know via twitter and facebook, I might blog, and will certainly walk out of the store recording a video of my disgust in youtube.

With that being said there is a television show that I really love!  Undercover Boss is the type of show that fills a two fold mission of showing the drama and reality behind a business while the owner or CEO plays an undercover employee.  I believe that EVERY company should participate in such an activity, particularly if you run a large company, because it allows you to really see what is going on within your organization.  You see the saying goes, the essence of doing great work is not what you do when people are watching but what you do when no one is around but you!

Does your customer service suck?  Do you think you can do better?  Let me help you!

Evaluate, evaluate and re-evaluate: As a manager, leader, or owner of a company you should be evaluating your brand regularly.  Whether you are in a product or service industry you should be on the front lines delivering that product often enough to know the impact your service has on your audience.  You should then take those findings and create tools to better deliver the service or product to the customer…with a smile! If you are not doing a great job this will let you know it is time to train more efficiently.

Training: When a new person comes into your company you train them on the organizational structure, the best practices for completing certain tasks, and the consequences of behaviors unfitting of the work environment.  HOWEVER, how many of you are training on a consistent basis?  I don’t mean the once a year break out sessions, company retreat, or morale training.  I mean truly investing in your employees and not only offering them the standard compliance trainings but sending them to continuing education, if necessary, and even allowing them to participate in professional organizations.

Incentivize: Everyone likes an incentive for doing great work; many equate that to their value within your company and define their success by your ‘gifts’ to them. Sometimes it can be as easy as a thank you and pat on the back and other times it should be a paid vacation or day off with pay.  Regardless of what the incentive is people want to feel appreciated and they are more likely to work harder.  This also includes promotions to the next level or encouraging them to be accountable as the lead on a project.

Hire slowly, Fire quickly: I have a client who takes forever to hire because they are of the philosophy that if I take my time I can bring on the right person for my brand.  That is extremely accurate and while it might not be 100% surefire it will cause you to lose less money and time as you constantly have to train and re-train.  I also believe that you should eliminate problems quickly.  Your disciplinary policy should be clear that there are warnings and such but when it’s time…it’s time.  As an entrepreneur, especially, you don’t have time to hold on to employees who are not a good fit.

Have you assessed your customer service lately?  If you don’t know how! Email ME at info@mepragency.com!

Kia Jarmon is a brand strategist and PR coach with boutique public relations firm, The MEPR Agency, based in Nashville, TN.  She speaks, blogs, mentors, and is soon to be an author.  You can find more information at her personal brand site, www.KiaJarmon.com.