I have noticed a scary decline in the level of customer service offered around the globe, in most businesses, in the past few years. Seems the tighter the economy, the less emphasis was placed on what should have been the critical element for sustainable success – retaining and attracting customers!

Many, particularly large, businesses have spent a fortune on new systems to automate the customer experience in the false belief that it would make us happier. Some organisations even go as far as putting a PR campaign around what they think is a customer service commitment, yet their customers are all complaining and unhappy – they are losing market share. ‘How can this be? We are doing such a great job! ‘

Well, it is time for large organisation CEOs to come out in the daylight, where happy mushrooms do not abound but customers lurk waiting to express their discontent. I am the leader of a large region and I sure don’t have the time to press endless buttons selecting an automated menu on a phone, I want to speak to someone who can help me, speak to me and listen well and preferably someone who will take responsibility for my need as a customer.

Yesterday, trying to communicate with an insurance company, I even got as far as pressing all the buttons to be placed on an endless loop hold of music, interrupted by advertisements for selling more product. After 20, yes 20, minutes of holding I received an automated voice telling me to either leave my number for a callback or hang up and call back later when they were less busy! I left my number - they did not call back. I had wanted to increase my business.

Today I decided to cancel my policies instead, and that was a very difficult experience as I could not speak to anyone, their fax failed to work so I had to send them a letter and hope they receive and act on it. With their attitude to customers I do not fancy my chances of success!

I will not be surprised to hear that this company does not survive tighter economic times. This is a time when customers vote with their feet! Plenty of competitors are eager to get the business if you don’t measure up to your customers expectations.

It is also time for small businesses to understand this is their time to shine – give a fabulous customer experience and your business will grow exponentially at the expense of your competitors, both large and small. Price matters less if you delight customers and prospects with your level of service. It costs less than you think, and the resultant growth will quickly see you thriving with a stronger bottom line and sustainable business model.

Delighting customers is the easiest, fastest and most cost effective way to increase your business. Why? Because most, if not all your competitors are doing a poor job. I hear people complaining everywhere and every day about their trade services, their communications supplier, their doctor, their pharmacy, their bank, their suppliers, and most retailers they visit.

Spend less time and money ‘telling’ your customers and prospects about your service, and instead commit that investment into a well trained, motivated and happy team of people who actually deliver that message directly to customers and prospects, day in and day out with their attitude. Your reputation will spread very quickly in this new age where poor quality service is in abundance.
Customer service comes down to people and how well you connect; not systems and smart software. This doesn’t mean that software and systems do not have their place, the more efficient you make them the better your team can delight customers. In some instances, offering a self help option is a great asset for those in a hurry with a very standard query e.g. needing a bank balance, or checking in at an airline kiosk. However any self help option needs to have a person available to help those who want help, also a self help option needs to be very simple, to test it - ask a young child to use it, if they can, then most of us would want to use it.

I don’t want to retrain as an airline check in service person, so my airline self check must be so simple that its quicker and easier for me – the customer. That is the reason I choose to fly the airline I fly – the self serve is outstanding and the service, if I need it, is also there. The same goes for my choice of bank, insurance, laptop, hifi retailer, clothing supplier etc. I travel frequently and select hotels based solely on their customer service score in the price bracket and I want to pay. I have never been disappointed, the opinion of others is very valuable.

If you are in the travel or hospitality industry, be aware the internet abounds with information about happy and unhappy customers.

Millions of people are making daily buying choices based on public feedback.

So what do most customers want:
1.A person who actually listens to their need and understands it.
2.Someone who can smile and have something pleasant to say, not just a human impersonating a robot with a script. (You can hear a pleasant smile over the phone!)
3.Someone who actively listens and interacts in a meaningful way, who demonstrates that they care if they win the business, or retain the customer or not.
4.Someone who will take responsibility for a query or problem and follow it through to ensure it is resolved. (Recently at a large telecommunications company, who advertises their commitment to customer service value, I was transferred 14 times!)
5.Someone who always does whatever they said they would do, without fail. (If you said ‘I will call Tuesday’, then be sure you call Tuesday)
6.Someone who respects ‘No, Thank You’ as an answer to an offering.
7.Someone who will offer to do a little more, go the extra mile to help, such as order it in, give a small gift or future discount to someone that has been inconvenienced, try to find a solution or some additional information that may help the customer.
8.A company that does not bother you unnecessarily with telephone sales campaigns, call at inconvenient times, or harass you. (Some charities have lost my decades of support recently by employing people who keep pestering me for an additional donation, then trying to make me feel bad for saying I cannot afford it).
9.Customer Service that is not obviously outsourced!
Outsourcing can only work when you have the right performance measurements in place, and the outsourcers employees are embraced as part of your culture and care about your company.
10.If an automated system is in use, then it must always have an option to speak to a person.
11.If you run a business for something people may find critical after hours, ensure someone is always contactable.
12.Finally, I recommend training your customer service team in using the principle of ‘One Minute More –The Human Connection’ and you will be astounded at the impact on your results for customer satisfaction.

Author's Bio: 

Terrie Anderson is a Corporate Success Story from Down Under. She has worked as a business leader both locally and internationally for many years, meeting new challenges with success, and new people with delight. Embracing the human spirit as the flame that ignites great organizations she now consults to enterprise and agencies on the productivity of charismatic communication.

Author of '999 Legendary Selling in the 21st Century' (2010), 'The Little Red Success Book' (1994), '30 Days of Inspiration' (2009) Terrie is considered by many to be a Thought Leader in Corporate Strategy and Solutions for the 21st Century, Transformative Communication and Human Relationships. She is very committed to the belief that The Human Connection could change human destiny and help bring peace to our world.
A memorable and fun speaker and an engaging coach, she approaches the world with warmth, happiness and an open honesty that has won her considerable esteem.

She lives in Australia with her heart, her partner and Easydog their treasured best friend, but says her soul lives in Limpopo South Africa, a land she feels connected to spiritually. Terrie is one of the founding members of the Fellowship of Southern Lights.

More info on http://www.oneminutemore.net