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Seven Structural Customer Service Failures That Drag Down Company Performance

Tolstoy aside, every happy or unhappy customer service situation is different from every other. Yet the odds are better than even, on any given customer service consulting engagement, that I'll uncover certain structural problems. Here are seven of the most serious–and frequent–that I encounter.

1. Using yesterday’s standardsIncredibly, I still find myself consulting for companies that have 24- and even 48-hour standards for returning customer emails and phone calls. The correct standard for responding to customer communications is to do so immediately; be sure to respond right away–at least briefly–even when you don’t yet have a complete answer ready for your customer.  Awaiting a response for 48 or 24 hours feels like years in internet time; after that amount of time, a customer's likely to assume that you're never going to get back to them–and they'll find some company that will.

• Failing to add the new communication channels to your customer service and customer support mix. Telephone and email aren’t enough; you should be making yourself available to customers via messaging, chat, and social channels as well. (There's more info on here on customer support here)

• Not realizing that the game has changed as far as real-time inventory (Amazon of course leads the way here), intuitive web (and mobile) design, and related innovations. Customers expect the world in these areas, and you need to keep up. (More on this in my article on omnichannel customer service.)

2. InconsistencyIt’s not enough to provide fantastic customer service sometimes, if you couple with that with substandard customer service the rest of the time. Though it’s true that a customer who is lucky enough to receive “wow” customer service from you on a single occasion will cut you some slack in the future for a while, repeated failures will turn customers off. Worse, if a someone experiences your business on a bad day, they’ll have a bad-to-good experience ratio that is infinite. (More on the limitations of occasional wow customer service here).

Note: Inconsistency is the symptom of other problems, so standing on a stepladder and exhorting everyone to “be more consistent” will have limited utility. The factors that contribute to consistency and its opposite are multiple, ranging from maintenance to having the right tools close at hand to whether or not you have proper (ample) staffing, and more.

3. Failures in talent management and HRNothing contributes more to, or detracts more from, the customer experience than your ability to/failure to recruit effectively, hire carefully, and manage employees for professional and personal growth. (More on this in my article on talent management and the customer experience.)

4. Control and empowerment issuesAlmost as bad as failure to hire the right people is failure to give them enough control over the design of their jobs, and empowerment in their interactions with customers. If you exert excessive control in these two areas, you reduce what you get from your employees; how can they contribute their best to an organization that keeps asking them to do otherwise? (More on this in my article on “self-leadership” and empowerment.)

5. Customer service training failuresEmployees who are untrained and undertrained in customer service are accidents waiting to happen—and you probably won’t have to wait long. Watch out as well for the danger of mis-training employees; a rigidly old-school customer service trainer who schools them to be more formalistic and scripted than customers today are hoping for can be almost as much of a problem. Customers today want great customer service, but they also want genuine service style. (Here’s more on this in my article on genuine service style.)

6. Customer service recovery failuresCustomer service recovery is an essential part of great customer service. There are two parts to this:  having pre-planned, “packaged” recovery routines for predictable mishaps (spilled wine and the like) and having a more involved, considered service recovery method for everything else. For the latter, I offer you my AWARE™ customer service recovery sequence (Acknowledge, Widen, Agree, Resolve, Evaluate); here’s an article covering the AWARE approach. If you would like a printable copy of this for company use, let me know and I will hook you up.

7. Lack of a continuous improvement and innovation mindsetEven the best-intentioned companies are going to get stuck in their ways if they don’t systematically encourage innovation; more here on kickstarting innovation) and on  continuous improvement. (Note: Please let me know if you would like a printable copy of my innovation prompts and I'll send it your way.) Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, keynote speaker and trainer. Customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).

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