By Howard Shore, Executive and Business Coach
Customer service is a key opportunity for most businesses in today’s marketplace to add and keep more customers as well as increase the bottom-line. Unfortunately, today’s customers have been forced to accept poor customer service as many companies have cut back on customer care in order to compete on price and profitability. This decision is hurting top and bottom-line results.
I recently picked up a copy of “Raving Fans”, a Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles book which is a simple-to-read and to-the-point book on handling external customer service. They do a great job of bringing together leading business concepts and creative story lines to effectively illustrate how to create outstanding customer service.
In the book they outline a three-part formula to create Raving Fans of your customers:
- Decide your vision for extraordinary customer service
- Discover what your customers want
- Finalize your vision and deliver plus 1%
This article is not meant to be a book review, just the opposite, as we believe simply following the points of this book will not make Raving Fans of your customers. Instead, we will look at the business structure from a more macro point of view.
Those who have worked with Activate Group know we do not believe that any one book has the magical answer to the success of your business. However, we do feel that this book has a wealth of knowledge and is a good one to add to your reading list if you are planning to improve the quality and response of your customer service.
From a macro basis, this book focuses on customer service primarily as an external function, and it significantly oversimplifies the execution of creating Raving Fans. First, let’s discuss the traditional organization and why customer service is truly lacking. In a traditional organization (depending on the size of the organization), there is a separate person or group of people responsible for developing strategy, managing and leading people, getting and keeping customers, and managing systems. Oftentimes there might as well be a wall that is 10 feet high and 12 feet thick between each department because each does not know what the other is doing.
Worse, many organizations have no customer service strategy at all, thinking they can hold off until the organization is larger and more established. However, many of those do not make it. They get complacent with their earnings, their customers leave, and they underperform from their true potential. And then there are organizations that have an established strategy. However, as many of us have experienced, it is not too unusual to find an organization where there is little resemblance between what is stated in the strategic plan and the daily operations, and if there is a resemblance, it is purely coincidental. This occurs as the different departments and people try to achieve their view of what the organization goals should be. The end result is organizational energy moving in different directions, resulting in dissatisfied internal and external customers.
With this in mind, how then does an organization successfully establish a defined strategy that both departments and people will support and follow? Inside of your overall strategy your customer service strategy should take into account both internal and external customers. As I mentioned in a previous article entitled “Leadership and Management Strategies: Finding and Polishing Your Gems,” to be truly successful, a business must understand that it has two customer bases – internal and external. And, it must cater to and serve both customer bases. The customer base most focused on is typically the revenue-generating ones. However, considering cause and effect, one would expect the internal customer (the employee) should be on at least an equal footing with the external customer. For example, if I report to you on a daily basis, we would have a customer relationship. If I do not keep you satisfied, you are going to help me get happily involved with a new career path in another organization. But if you are not keeping me satisfied, I have got two options, I can walk, or I can go on silent strike, putting forth minimal performance. You are never going to be able to get spectacular things from me.
Your customer service strategy must lie inside of your overall company strategy. Customer service is an integrated system that when combined with the overall corporate strategy becomes the powerhouse behind creating Raving Fans within your customer base.
Consider the following:
- What is your strategy for managing people? You certainly do not say “Firings will continue until morale improves.”
- What is your strategy for managing systems? How do you make yourself easily accessible to both internal and external customer needs?
- What is the interdepartmental strategy? Does it take an Act of Congress in order to get something done? Or is the organization relatively fast on its feet?
Where these factors overlap is where our satisfied customers lie, both inside and outside the organization.
Now, back to the book, the first key to creating Raving Fans, according to Blanchard and Bowles, is to “Decide What You Want.” It is creating the organization’s vision of perfection centered on and around the customer. The point here is that you must mentally accomplish something before you can physically accomplish it. So what does the entire customer experience look like through every possible customer contact, and how will you create the ideal environment for Raving Fans? To that extent, your visioning phase should not be confused with “how to.” Just concern yourself with “what.” Otherwise, you will limit your thinking and fall short of potential.
The second key to creating Raving Fans was to “Discover What the Customer Wants.” This is a very important point. I strongly encourage you to hire an external party to help you discover your customer’s point of view. We are conditioned to see things a certain way, and this clouds our judgment. It is human nature to gravitate toward feedback that supports your own vision as opposed to listening and internalizing what the customer is telling you. Today, many businesses discard information that does not fit the vision, and those are critical components to achieving excellent customer service.
An organization’s vision is important, critical actually, and for several reasons. First, as the book mentions, unless you have your own vision, how can you understand your customer’s? Second, when you find out what customers really want, focus will be on one or two things. Your own vision has to fill in the gaps. Finally, you have to know when to ignore what the customer wants and, if necessary, tell the customer to take his vision elsewhere to be fulfilled. Your job is not to look after every whim of every customer.
The third key to creating Raving Fans was to “Deliver the Vision Plus One Percent.” There are two important points embedded here. First, you have to decide on a vision, and second, make a commitment. Many people think that they’ve made a commitment, and this is not always true. Any ambitious goal like creating Raving Fans is going to encounter problems. Commitment will work to overcome these problems. The typical response is to question the decision.
Finally and importantly, throughout the book Blanchard and Bowles point out that it is not realistic to deliver your entire vision all at once. Start with small achievable goals. As you deliver the goals through implementation consistently add another 1%. This gets down to the integrity of doing what you say you are going to do every time. Your customer will first see your organization’s shortcomings especially if you are over-promising and under-delivering. This will not be satisfactory to the customers even if you are ultimately delivering a lot more than your competition. Keep this in mind. Build what you can deliver consistently. and then add 1% at a time. Over time, you will see that the compounded return will be 100% of your vision and a lot more customers!
At Activate Group we have the methodology, expertise, and tools necessary to help your organization to strengthen its focus on attracting, servicing, and keeping internal and external customers.
Review our website at www.activategroupinc.com to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216 or email@example.com.