Solving Customer Service Problems

Companies that are known for great service, such as the retailer Nordstrom Inc. , “have this standard of customer service that exists to make employees feel empowered to make the best decision for the customer,” said Craig Chanoff, vice president for client services at Blackboard Inc. , a Washington, D. C. -based provider of educational software. Delivering good service needs to be an integral part of a business. “It’s an ongoing thing that you do,” said David Bianconi, president of Progressive Medical Inc. , a Westerville, Ohio-based health care cost containment company. You have to always be aware of that and focus on that. ” While often a dropoff in customer service can be a problem, sometimes it’s part of growing pains, particularly at young firms. “A lot of companies go through this _ they have substantial growth but unfortunately … can’t keep up with the service that clients require,” Chanoff said. When Blackboard went through that difficult process, it hired Chanoff to oversee and revamp its customer service. It focused on relationships with customers; now Blackboard has customer service reps dedicated to specific clients.

The Internet is another solution to help improve service. About six years ago, Progressive Medical created an online system to allow customers to access their information, Bianconi said. When you make changes in your customer service processes, don’t do it in a vacuum _ get input from your customers to see what would help them. Progressive Medical brought customers into the planning process. “I’d much prefer you telling me what you want instead of me guessing,” Bianconi said. And if you do decide to create an Internet-based customer service, be careful that you don’t lose the human touch that many customers still want.

Bianconi said his customers have an option of going online or talking to a company employee. Perhaps the best approach to good customer service is to be proactive, by keeping in touch with clients or customers. Knowing how they’re feeling can help you solve problems before they turn into disasters. While e-mail can make communication easier, Brian Kaplan, owner of New York-based Impression PR, said business owners still “need to be getting on the phone or meeting with them (customers) every other week at least and say to them: ‘This is where your money is going. ” In a larger firm with many customers, that can be harder. So Chanoff suggested periodic surveys of customers not just to determine their satisfaction level, but to understand what changes need to be made at a company. “Use it for coaching opportunities for your staff,” he said. Steve Kaplan, author of “Bag The Elephant: How to Win and Keep Big Customers,” advises business owners to “audit” their companies, asking a friend to pose as a customer seeking help.

Evaluating his or her experience is another way to see where problems might exist. Any company can do it, said Kaplan, president of The Difference Maker Inc. in Chicago. “If you’re a small print shop, coffee house, or b-to-b (business to business) company, it doesn’t matter. ” Of course, when problems crop up, it’s important to have someone in the company _ preferably yourself or another senior executive _ talk to aggrieved customers. Listen to their concerns and be flexible in trying to reach a solution; doing so will help you keep them.

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