Crucial conversations for entrepreneurs and investors:#3 Customer Service

10 Feb

Crucial conversations on the gold standard in customer service

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
Winston Churchill

I recently met with the CEO of a tour company who believed one of her employees was ignoring customer complaints and failing to do anything to address problems. The CEO was gearing up for a crucial conversation with that employee about customer service and her (uncertain) future with the company.

I was appalled by the employee’s attitude. When we operate a business, it is to serve our customers. Without customers, we have no revenue; without revenue, we have no business. Every entrepreneur has to have this critical conversation with employees. Our customers are “our guys”; they are using our services or products to earn money in their businesses. If what we are selling them isn’t meeting their expectations, we have to not only listen to the complaints, we have to do what it takes to resolve them. Customers merit our respect and service by the very trust they place in us by purchasing from us.
According to Bill Gates, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” With that in mind, what action can the company take to improve customer service?

  • Embedding the company’s mission – If the CEO hadn’t stressed the importance of customer service before, this is an excellent time to reiterate the company’s mission and how employee behaviour and service support or weaken it. Discuss the mission not just once but monthly or quarterly, and post it where everyone can see and be inspired by it.
  • Retaining customers is far less expensive than finding new customers – Most entrepreneurs I know would give their souls to attract new customers. This CEO has to demonstrate to her employees how much effort, time and money it costs to get a customer and how much is lost if the customer goes elsewhere. Even if solving the customer’s complaint costs a little extra, that is minimal compared to finding a replacement, especially when this is a key client.
  • Employee attitude is everything – I suspect the employee mentioned above is being defensive and wants to be right – which means the customer has to be wrong. Employee attitude has to be constantly on the employer’s radar – during interviews, training, and over the months and years on the job. Anytime the employer sees evidence of this attitude, address it head-on. Make sure the employee understands that being right at the cost of losing a customer is WRONG. If she can’t get rid of her need to be right, at least she can satisfy this outside of the workplace.
  • Employee empowerment can go too far – While giving employees control over day-to-day decisions can streamline management, the right guidelines must be in place and must be followed. In my years of running language schools, I sometimes saw employees take empowerment to mean that they decided how the company should be run. That’s going way too far. The CEO has to set and enforce strict policies in which employees operate, and make it clear that he/she is the owner, decision maker and final arbiter.

When you continue to delight your clients with excellent customer service, you grow your business faster and easier. Happy customers are not only loyal; they spread the word. New customers that come to you having heard of your solid reputation are much less likely to bargain for lower rates when they know they can count on your company to deliver.

How does your Financial Advisor rate on customer service? I believe the gold standard incorporates at least all of the following:

  1. Provides a holistic approach to managing your wealth, getting to know your family and work situation, and goals and dreams before proposing investments or insurance
  2. Designs a wealth management plan that addresses both the present and the future
  3. Monitors the results in your portfolio regularly
  4. Is readily available to answer concerns; not just to collect a cheque
  5. Makes contact with you on the agreed-upon basis – whether quarterly, semi-annually or annually
  6. Explains the fee options related to providing financial advice and helps you choose the solution that keeps the maximum amount of funds in your pocket
  7. Last but not least – in relation to the above discussion – satisfactorily deals with any complaints/problems that are raised

Giving great customer service.
It’s just good advice.