5 Best Practices to Improve Customer Service

10/26/2011 04:29 pm ET | Updated Dec 26, 2011

Your whole enterprise depends on them... but if your front-line service people feel like they're on the low end of the totem pole, your customers are going to feel that way, too. It is never too late to change that dynamic!

I believe that great customer service is the responsibility of every team and department within the organization, every working day. With that in mind, I would like to share five best practices based on working with world class customer service teams at companies like QVC, Hewlett-Packard, Cross Country Home Services, and Life Line Screening, among others.

Best Practice #1: Celebrate the Victories. Remember to highlight what your top service performers do well. If it's been a while since your customer-facing team members were credited for doing something right, change that!

Best Practice #2: Give Front-Line Service People More Authority and Respect Within Your Organization. For instance, you might provide people the autonomy to spend up to a certain dollar amount to resolve customer problems... and then turn those employees who spend those corporate dollars effectively into internal role models for the rest of your organization.

Best Practice #3: Re-examine Your Compensation Plan. If the pay your customer service personnel receive is not commensurate with what your company says about its belief in good customer service ... then you won't attract top notch people who can deliver on that promise!

Best Practice #4: Create an Effective "Soft Skills" Training Plan. Too often, customer service people know all about the technical and product/service feature issues, but have not received thorough and on-going training on people skills and effective customer engagement. Make sure they get that training!

Customer Service Wow!: Last Saturday, my wife and I dined at the top rated restaurant, Le Bernardin. She enjoyed a wonderful crab meat appetizer, and unbeknownst to me, had found a very small piece of crab shell, which she left on the plate. A few minutes after the plates were cleared, the senior waiter came over and offered the Chef's sincere apologies for the piece of crab shell. We were surprised, since my wife had made no complaint.

We asked how the Chef knew about this. Apparently, the bus boy had noticed the (little) piece of white shell (on the white plate) and told the senior waiter, who told the Chef, who immediately sent his apologies.

Think about the level of training that caused the bus boy to notice the small piece of crab shell and initiate this escalation...without the customer even complaining.

This was a Saturday night, every table was booked, and we received the Chef's apology within minutes!

How can you achieve this level of real time, proactive customer service in your organization?

Best Practice #5: Do a Skill Set Assessment. Take a closer look at the people you're putting on the customer service phone or face to face on the front lines. If some of those people are simply not cut out for the empathetic, "people-first", task of hearing customers out, making them feel heard, and cheerfully solving their problems, you need to reassign them to other departments. This will lift the morale, and strengthen the customer focus, of everyone who remains.

THE MARKETING TAKEAWAYS: Implement these 5 best practices. Measure results. You should see a significant increase in: results, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.

Ernan was recently inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame.

Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

2010-12-08-ernan.jpgErnan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.

His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.

Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."