Creating World-Class Customer Service
"The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary." - Sam Walton
In the performance plastics industry, competitive differentiation is increasingly defined by the level of customer service delivered by an organization.
A user of performance plastics requires an advocate for their business needs with the attitude, problem-solving skills, product knowledge and organizational skills to put it all together. As a customer service representative, you are the front line for your company in delivering a customer interaction that will keep your customers coming back again and again.
It's all about attitude
One of the easiest ways to provide great customer service is by simply having a positive and empathetic attitude. Whether you know it or not, emotions are expressed through the tone of your voice and your choice of wording. Everyone has bad days, but when picking up that phone, starting off the conversation with a smile (even if you have to force it at first!) can help reset your attitude. Be sure to never let your tone be misconstrued, letting the customer think you are bothered or rushed. While personal conversations with a customer should be kept to a minimum, it certainly does not hurt to spend several seconds to engage in "how are you" type of conversations — just be mindful that you may have other customers waiting. Customers that keep coming back to work with a particular person or company do so because they can tell the customer representative is kind, patient and understanding.
At its core, customer service is about problem solving. Try removing negative words and phrases like "no" and "I can't" from your vocabulary. When a customer is in a rush for an out-of-stock item, do you simply tell them "no, we do not have that," or do you proactively present an in-stock item that may suit their needs? Put another way, do you respond in a way that makes the customer feel like it's their problem they are asking for an out-of-stock item, or do you respond in a way that makes them feel like it is your problem?
World-class customer service problem solving also means taking personal responsibility for your customer's issue. Remember, you are the face of your organization and channel partners. Given that any organization is no better than its team members and business partners, pushing off responsibility for an issue onto a team member or partner not only does not solve the issue at hand, but over time will destroy the value of your company's brand. If a team member or channel partner is not responding, be sure to escalate the issue. Your persistent focus on solving the problem will not only validate you as a true partner to your customer, but also elevate you within your organization and to your partners as a customer advocate.
In the end, your organization may not be able to deliver on solving a customer problem in the way they might prefer. Customers will understand there are constraints on production and delivery, given that those constraints are explained in a courteous and professional manner and the customer is offered reasonable alternatives.
Knowledge is power
Delivering accurate and timely information to your customer will assure your customer continues to view you as a resource and partner in their business.
Do you take the time to fully understand not only the product portfolio your company offers, but also the manner in which you can deliver on those products? Key areas of knowledge could include:
• Minimum order thresholds
• Prepaid shipping amounts
• Color/texture availability
• Size/thickness constraints
• Packaging and shipping protocols
Are you able to effectively tap the resources within your organization to provide accurate and timely information? More importantly, are you also an effective resource for others within your organization? A company culture that fosters positive communication and knowledge sharing will deliver on the promise of world-class customer service more effectively.
Also, be sure to take advantage of the vast educational resources available through IAPD University and IAPD's e-training webinars. The Level I and Level II Performance Plastics Certificate training programs provide a broad perspective on performance plastics and can enhance your ability to be an effective resource for your customers.
Organizational skills go hand-in-hand with world-class customer service. Careful note taking and attention to detail are essential to both avoiding misunderstandings and maintaining commitments. If your company has invested in a customer resource management (CRM) tool, making sure every customer interaction is documented within that system will help assure that not only are you able to easily access all of the details of that interaction for yourself later, but that your entire team has visibility on the details of those interactions. However, if your company does not use a CRM, don't let that be an excuse for sloppiness. Keep careful handwritten or typed notes of your interactions that you can easily access, or share with your team as needed. Proper organization will also aid in delivering on key metrics users of performance plastics expect from customer service departments, such as timely returns of requests for quotation, order acknowledgements and order status checks.
Become a customer service legend
Often, the difference between whether you or a competitor receives an order comes down to who the customer decides will deliver the most accurate and timely information in the most courteous and professional way. Delivering on the cornerstones of great customer service – attitude, problem solving, knowledge and organization — will not only assure that your customers keep coming back again and again, but increase the value of your product and brand.
Originally published in the International Association of Plastics Distribution Performance Plastics Magazine, June/July 2017 publication.
Alicia Spence is Vice President of Cartier Wilson LLC. For more information, contact CartierWilson LLC, 34194 Aurora Road, Suite 231, Solon, OH 44139 USA; phone (770) 644-0000, email@example.com, www.cartierwilson.com.