My (Internet) friend Matt Homann writes the first blog to which I ever subscribed, some five years ago. He thinks and writes about client service in thought-provoking ways. He is also fond of coming up with "Ten Rules of <fill in the blank>" which is a format I enjoy. Like most of the world, I can't seem to resist lists. Here are Matt's Ten Rules of Client Service.
Matt's post made me think of what I have learned over the years about client service and what my own list would look like, for the benefit of my readers.
Any such list has to start with a disclaimer. Good customer service is difficult to do consistently. If you have ever been part of a business with a large customer service component (and perhaps that includes most businesses), you know that customer service is performed by human beings, and human beings are, well, human. They make mistakes. They are more motivated on some days than others. They have fights with their spouses. They have sick kids. They call in sick themselves. They get impatient when answering questions that seem stupid. They are trying to get some other task done. Etc. Etc. Etc.
That's why you hear that disclaimer about how your call might be monitored. Management wants to know what kind of service is being delivered by the human beings who deliver it. Those who strive to deliver good, even great, customer service study the exemplars: Disney, Nordstrom, Mitchell's, Zingerman's, and try to learn what they can.
Here is some of what I have learned in striving for great client service. Some of it from reading, most of it from the school of hard knocks. My version of Matt's Ten Rules:
1. You have to have systems, scripts, and protocols. If you leave the quality of client service up to the particular whims of each individual who provides it, you will never achieve any consistency.
2. You cannot let the systems, scripts, and protocols become more important than common sense. No policy is more important than the goal of that policy.
3. You must hire the right people. "We hire nice, friendly people and teach them sales," said Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus. "We can't teach them to be nice. That was their parents' job."
4. You must empower those people to provide great client service. That includes giving them financial authority to go beyond the ordinary, take positive actions, deliver "wow."
5. Promise p.m., deliver a.m. Much of client satisfaction comes down to expectations. Set yours at a place where you know you can exceed them.
6. In case of a screw-up, use the formula "whole plus one." Acknowledge responsibility for the error, make the client whole, and add something for their trouble. They will be even more loyal than if you hadn't screwed up in the first place.
7. Learn how to handle the telephone. The receptionist is your Director of First Impressions. Hire someone great and pay a good salary. Do not have one of those automatic answering systems. Treat voicemail as the absolute last resort.
8. Understand that obnoxious behavior on the part of your client is a cry for help.
9. Remind all employees periodically that their paychecks consist of client money.
10. Finally, employ the Golden Rule and make sure you treat your client as you would like to be treated. It has worked for generations as a common sense guide to human behavior. It still works.