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Managing To Retain Customers
By Rebecca L. Morgan, CSP, CMC

Sam, your normally considerate subordinate, has had a hard day. He didn't sleep well last night because his young daughter was up with the flu. And today, nothing seems to be going right. At 3:30 he answers a call.

Sam: Hello. Sam Short here.

Hello. I'm inquiring about the availability of you XT23P. Do you have any in stock?

I don't know. The computer doesn't show any in stock.

When do you think you might have it in?

How should I know? Your crystal ball is as clear as mine.

I need it soon.

Well, you should have called earlier. Those items go quickly. Call back in a few weeks.

I guess I'll have to.

Scenarios like the above happen all too frequently in organizations without managers’ awareness. When we aren't around or within earshot, how do we really know how our people are responding to our customers? We don't. We can only rely on our communication about and example of customer service to live on through our staff's communication with customers.

What can managers do to create an environment conducive to continual customer satisfaction?

You are a role model.

Your model can be either positive or negative. You must give more than lip service to the concept—you must practice it visibly and frequently. The concepts of customer satisfaction must be created internally and reinforced internally. Sending staff to outside courses on customer satisfaction is sometimes a waste of money if the manager does not reinforce good service.

Establish the attitude of treating customers with respect and dignity.

If there is a problem, assume your organization has made the mistake until presented with evidence otherwise. For example, “We don't have a record of receiving your payment. Would you be kind enough to see if your check cleared the bank” vs. “You didn't pay us.”

Work to eliminate your staff's suspicious or aggressive behavior—body language, voice tone, eye contact. Some employees project an “us vs. them” attitude about customers, and this is shown through their non-verbal communication.

Ask for your staff's suggestions.

Your people often have good ideas to improve operations. But some don't feel comfortable making suggestions unless asked.

Integrate their ideas which make sense. And give them credit—don't steal their thunder. People like to be acknowledged for their ideas, and resent it when someone else gets credit for their idea. They are more apt to act on the idea positively if it comes from the “file” rather than the “ranks.”

Initiate a policy to be pro-active in letting customers know if there is a problem with their order.

Don't wait until the last minute.

Discuss customer satisfaction at staff meetings.

Give examples of good customer service behavior as well as problems that may need corrected (don't embarrass anyone). Make your concerns and philosophy about customer service known regularly.

Don't talk negatively about customers in front of your staff, unless there is something they can learn from the comment.

“Mrs. Hanson is such a pain in the neck” teaches nothing. But “Mrs. Hanson is very detail oriented. So make sure to check her invoices carefully before you send them out” explains your concern and what to do about it.

Know when to "fire" a customer to maintain and enhance morale.

If a customer continually berates and upsets your staff for petty or inconsequential reasons, you may need to invite the customer to utilize someone else's services. "Mr. Pratt, it seems that we cannot meet your expectations for turn-around and acceptable number of rejects. Perhaps it would be better if you found another vender who could meet your standards."

Teach your staff how to learn from negative experiences with rude or upset customers.

After the encounter, ask them, and teach them to ask themselves, these questions:
What did you do well?
What would you do differently next time?
What could you do to prevent this from happening again?
What did you learn?

Solicit customer feedback.

There are several inexpensive ways to get feedback. One is providing customers with postage-paid return cards or surveys. Make sure the surveys are short and to the point. Have a place for the customer to write his/her name and phone number so you can call to clarity any information.

Another way to gather feedback is for you to personally call customers each week (e.g., 5-10 calls) to check on service. Make sure that calls are not only to the customers you know love your company, but call some who haven't bought from you in a while as well. Then use the information you receive to improve operations.

Reward good customer service behavior regularly and sincerely.

When you receive good feedback about an individual, or personally experience a staff member doing a good job, give him or her immediate feedback. Let him or her know what the customer said, or what you noticed that showed hood service.

Encourage your staff to work out problems without escalating it to you (after you are confident about their skills).

Allow them to make mistakes and try new ideas to create win/win situations.

Give them them the authority to act on the customer's behalf. Give a dollar amount ceiling they can utilize without calling in their supervisor. Increase the ceiling as your trust level with them increases. This develops confidence in the staff member, and the customer knows her problem can be handled immediately, without being bounced around.

Make customer satisfaction a part of the staff member's performance evaluation.

Be clear on expectations and minimum levels of customer service. Be specific, e.g., phone to be answered within two rings; walk in visitors greeted within 30 seconds; phone calls returned within 4 hours; upbeat and helpful behavior. Let them know their performance in these areas will be included in their performance evaluations.

Customer satisfaction is essential to a successful organization. Instill the value of this with your staff, recognize their commendable behavior, and teach them to think on behalf of the customer, and you'll have an organization your customers will keep coming back to.

© Morgan Seminar Group

About the Author
Rebecca L. Morgan, CSP, CMC is an internationally sought-after strategic customer service consultant, speaker and trainer. She is the author of four books, including the bestseller Calming Upset Customers. For information on her speaking services and learning tools, contact her at 408/998-7977,, Please contact Rebecca for permission to reprint or repost this item.

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