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CFOs: True Customer Service is a Competitive Advantage

In having the opportunities to be involved in multiple start-up companies over the past six years, I have an educated opinion to offer, customer service in almost every industry related to starting and running a business is “below par”. CFOs are now talking more and more about impacting the customer experience their companies deliver. I think not only should they impact it, they should own it. The level of customer service is so poor that offering quality customer service will offer competitive advantage to any company that invests in delivering it to each and every customer and potential customer.

The first step in that process is understanding every way that your company interacts with your customers. The next step is to identify and understand the customer service issues that your company is currently experiencing from the prospective of your customers. Collaborate with your company’s customer service leader to identify areas that need improvement, find out what resources they need to improve, and identify potential areas where you expand and improve the customer experience offered by your company.

The next step I would advise is for a CFO (or having a trusted colleague) mystery shop every type of interaction (phone calls and e-mails) with every single person who interacts with your customers. Next, document what was right about the interaction, and what was wrong about each interaction with each colleague who communicates with customers, verify and/or add to the issues that your customer service leader has identified, and then have someone “coach” up each person in areas where they need it. After each person who interacts with customers and their immediate boss indicates this person is ready, then mystery shop each person again. This process should be repeated as much as needed to deliver the customer service you demand when you are a customer, and your customers deserve.

The following are thoughts that I offer as I have seen customer service erode over the last 20 years that might warrant your consideration:

  1. Each interaction with a customer whether in person, on the phone or virtual should begin with a pleasant greeting.
  2. Do not discriminate between customers. Do not treat new customers better than existing customers. The tactic of short term deals not available to existing customers just not fit all with a recurring revenue model. The subscription economy continues to grow at a healthy pace, and treating customers like a transaction and having high rates of customer attrition will not cut it anymore.
  3. Conversations should not be rushed, companies using how many calls are completed by a customer service professional as a success metric will negatively impact customer service.
  4. In offering customer support via phone, eliminate complicated phone menus to even get to anyone to talk to, give each person answering the phone the ability to resolve issues, and do not allow passing a caller off to someone else a common practice.
  5. For phone support, segment those who talk to existing customers and those who talk to prospects. Those speaking to customers should have access to their customer file and should be able to pull up an account simply by name or address to begin the conversation.
  6. A sales relationship does not end after a company gets paid. A customer has a potential lifetime value, and each interaction with a customer should be approached that way. Each interaction with a customer is valuable and can either make or cost your company money.
  7. Teach your colleagues to listen. Effective listening is not easy for anyone, and that skill needs to be taught and honed. Customers often want someone to listen, not talk.
  8. Teach your colleagues that when in doubt, just apologize. That tones down the intensity of any conversation.
  9. Teach your colleagues that when they make a promise to a customer they need to keep it. If you can’t deliver on a promise to a customer or prospect, then do promise it. Yes, you need to earn and keep the trust of your customers.
  10. Never tell a customer there is nothing you can do for them when an issue arise, because that is not true, or have we all just forgotten, the customer is right (or at least you need to make them feel that way). At the very least offer a follow-up call or e-mail after you do some research and see what can do for a customer. The answer may ultimately, be no, but it should ALWAYS BE “no, but.” This shows that they have not “lost” in course of your conversation

Think about the last few times you have purchased or needed to contact someone to get support relative to business products or services. This exercise in and of itself should motivate any finance leader to take into consideration the value investing in improving the customer experience offered by your company.

Comments

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Customer service while a key aspect to every business is especially important to commodity businesses.

What makes you stand-a-lone from the competition? You all sell the same item, at market based prices. It can be one thing and one thing only - customer service.

For example, the airlines. I'm doing a lot of traveling these days, and I have to tell you, many of the carriers I've been flying are failing on customer service.

From failure to answer e-mails, to reward points never making to my account, from flight stewards who are down right nasty to those who wear enough perfume to choke a horse; they just don't care.

So why fly a Delta, when for the same price you can fly an American Airline? With the exceptions for those airports that have limited service, the traveler, whether business or not can always take the other guy... and that my airline friends means empty seats and lost revenue....

Gary A. Pokorn
Title: Sales Enablement Manager
Company: Oracle I NetSuite
(Sales Enablement Manager, Oracle I NetSuite) |

Stellar comments Ernie! I'm in full agreement. Not only that, I will refer to your advice in my next weekly post on TheQuoteGuys.com. Thx, GAP

Rob Rogers
Title: Director, Membership & Certification Con..
Company: Diversified Business Communications
(Director, Membership & Certification Content, Diversified Business Communications) |

Well said, Ernie. It can be hard to do -- and does not happen without intention. Involves development of a customer service culture so that it becomes "the way we do it" and overcomes even those employees whose personalities are less inclined.

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