Customer Service in the 21st Century
by Pamela Walters
Every company gets excited about “making the sale.” A lot of time and expertise go into identifying prospects, assessing needs, pitching ideas and influencing outcomes. Companies celebrate when they close contracts with new customers as well as when they renew existing relationships. They bask in the victory for at least a moment, and then they begin to strategize on how they can do it all over again with other targeted prospects.
In reality, the fastidious work is just beginning—ensuring that your customers are serviced properly and that you are following through on promises made during the sales process. This responsibility is often taken on by a different set of employees who have been charged with facilitating the solution. Depending on the scope of the solution and the complexity involved, this can take a few weeks to several months.
Beyond implementation, companies must establish a trusted and productive relationship with key stakeholders. It seems straightforward, but doing business today has unique challenges. Service and relationship expectations are more nuanced. The environment is competitive and fluid, putting pressure on companies to keep their offerings relevant and to continually assess how solutions are experienced by their clients. In addition, technology can sometimes be a barrier to creating a more personal relationship that fosters loyal and satisfied customers.
Universal Customer Evaluation Criteria
Build a Trusting Relationship – The solution and the customer’s experience must live up to expectations. Anticipate key stakeholder and strategy changes over time and be flexible enough to evolve to a “new norm.”
Demonstrate Understanding of “Who We Are” – Lay out the unique aspects of the organization’s goals, culture, customers and intended pace of growth. What evidence does the service provider demonstrate in leading effective implementation practices to achieve successful outcomes?
Simplify the Process – Anticipate the workforce who will use the solution, how they will consume it, and the level of expertise and patience required to administer the product or service. The customer must be confident in the company’s ability to utilize and manage the solution.
Teach Effective Practices – Train all stakeholders on how to be effective, how to handle obstacles that arise, and how to use this solution as a genesis for change.
The relationship aspect is a key component to meeting the universal customer criteria. Business communication often comes in soundbytes, lacking needed context. Even when you try to connect more organically, it is difficult to reach people by phone and the attentiveness of stakeholders can be short. Face-to-face meeting opportunities are becoming a rare commodity due to travel schedules and the global reach of most businesses.
So how does a service provider achieve the desired outcomes? Certainly not by lengthening emails or leaving a barrage of voicemails. But be aware that every touch point matters. Every word must count. When you have a direct conversation, it should be an event welcomed by your customer. Be prepared, have desired outcomes in mind, and learn to be a savvy listener, providing perspective and collaboration to solve problems and deepen the relationship.
“Service” is an investment requiring resources, effective tools and processes, and proactive thinking. Fruitful investments are carefully planned and precisely executed, frequently nurtured and focused on outcomes. Be intentional. In this fast-paced business environment, a service provider who listens, solves problems, and creates energy and confidence around the solution will keep their customers smiling.
How do customers experience you?
About the guest author: Pamela serves as the Executive Vice President at The Devine Group and has been with the company since 1999. Pamela is responsible for directing the execution of all professional services for client organizations and contributes to the strategic planning process for research and development. Previously, Pamela served as the Director of Change Management for the largest hospitality employer in the U.S., Marriott International, where she established communication networks and strategies, identified training needs and facilitated a change agent network. Pamela holds a Master’s degree in Communication Studies from Regent University and is a Certified Compensation Professional.