Improve Service Quality at Your Business
Quality service is a key element of a successful business. But many businesses struggle to improve service and retain their customers. A bad experience can drive a customer away for years.But don’t despair! There are several methods to improve quality service at your business, from having clearly defined and measured service goals and motivating your employees, to using customer feedback and updating your service tools to better serve your customers. No matter your approach, improving quality service at your business does not have to be a struggle.
Motivating Your Employees
- Invest in service training, rather than a quality control department. Depending on how large or small your business is, you may already have a quality control department. This department tracks and documents any quality issues and work to address them. But depending on a quality control department can actually set your business up for poor performance, as it may demonstrate to your other employees that quality is not their main concern. Investing in training that trains all workers at all levels, rather than solely in a quality control department, will let your workers know they have a responsibility for providing quality service, no matter their role in the company.
- Look at gaps in service training in your current workforce. Have your employees take a customer service seminar, online, or in person, as part of a performance improvement requirement. Organize training sessions that target specific issues or gaps, such as how to interact with customers at the cash register or how to handle a speech to a client in a meeting.
- For example, if you are trying to improve service at the cash register, set up a training session targeted at improving service at the register. You may discuss how to greet a customer at the register, how to ring them through quickly and promptly, and how to hand them their change or their charge card at the end of the transaction. You may also instruct your employees to do mock transactions, where one employee acts as the worker at the register and the other employee acts as the customer.
- Don’t stop training employees after their first few days or weeks on the job. Teach employees that there is always more they can and should be learning about their job, your business, and how to serve customers.
- Set up a new-employee initiation program. This program will train new workers on quality and service as soon as they start work. It should be a well-rounded program that gives new workers a clear sense of your company’s products, services, and core business strategy. It should also reinforce your company’s approach to customers and commitment to quality customer service.
- The program should include an overview of your company’s approach to service. Give examples of customer service issues you have had in the past and/or are currently dealing with, as well as the solutions you came up with to address these issues. This will help new hires understand your approach to service and how to problem solve these issues.
- Pair up an experienced employee with a new employee. The experienced worker can provide firsthand experience of your company’s operations and of how to perform well in a certain position or role. The experienced worker can also give the new worker pointers on providing quality service for customers.
- If possible, conduct part of the new employee orientation yourself. Lead one of the training sessions to show the new employees you are committed to the new hire program. This will also give you a chance to instill the company values in the new hires right away and set the new employees up for success.
- Teach the 30/30 rule. This simple rule states that the employee should greet each customer within 30 steps or 30 seconds of entering the store.
This attention will ensure that your customers feel welcomed and wanted, which will translate to a more positive view of your business.
- Make sure to train your employees to communicate welcome with their body language as well as their words. A “hello” will not mean much if it comes from an employee who does not make eye contact, smile, or stand up straight with open body language.
- If your business is web-based, set up an automatic response system so that your customers know their messages have been received and you are working on solving their issue.
- Tie your employee’s actions to the business’s overall performance. This means showing your employees that what they do every day in the workplace has a big effect on customer happiness and the bottom line. Tying individual behavior to a larger system will give your employees a sense of how important it is that they practice good quality service every day.
- One way of doing this is to challenge your employees to commit to providing the best service possible to customers for one month. At the end of the month, show your employees proof of improvement of sales and lower customer complaints.
- Encourage employees to think of customer service as a "story" about your business. Your employees are the principal way that customers will engage with your business. In most cases, how they behave toward customers creates the overall "culture" of a business or store. Understanding that their interactions with customers are not limited to a single exchange at a cash register, but that they actually inform how a customer feels about the entire place, will help motivate employees to provide quality service every time.
- For example, the grocery store Trader Joe's frequently performs at the top of its industry in customer service rankings because employees are trained to provide a friendly, laid-back store atmosphere and offer personal recommendations about products. This approach makes it fun to shop there, which draws customers back even though Trader Joe's stock is usually more limited than other grocery stores.
- Give your employees service quality goals. These goals should be challenging, but attainable. Research on goal setting has shown that setting specific and challenging goals leads to higher levels of employee performance. Avoid easy or vague goals, such as “just do your best”.
- Focus on specific actions and attitudes, like greeting every customer with a smile and a hello, helping them with a fitting room and sizing, and making sure their transaction at the register is fast and pleasant.
- For example, at Harrah’s casino in Las Vegas, staff must meet goals that are set up based on the individual's position at the casino, as well as the goals set up by Harrah’s group of hotels in the Vegas area. The managers at Harrah’s work with the employees to make sure the goals are challenging, but attainable. Harrah’s uses a combination of goal setting and future rewards to motivate both the individual employee and the team.
- Recognize and reward improvements in employee performance. Motivate your employees by acknowledging their accomplishments and their ability to reach or even surpass customer service goals. There are two primary ways to reward employees:
- Financial rewards: One of the easiest ways to implement financial rewards is to increase wages and hand out bonuses to your employees. But if you aren’t in a position to hand out more money to your employees all at once, you can improve their finances in other ways. Give them any extra hours they request, offer more affordable healthcare options, and be flexible around their child or elder care needs.
- Non-financial rewards: Create a recognition program that shows your employees how much you appreciate their hard work and attention to customer service. Focus on a program that recognizes the employee’s length of service, positive customer feedback or achievement of a customer service goal. Use rewards like plaques, certificates, company merchandise, gift certificates, or complimentary products. Though these rewards won’t necessarily benefit the employee financially, they will give the employee a sense of pride and achievement that is crucial to maintaining her motivation.
- Let your employees know there is room for growth. Another way to motivate and empower your employees to is to provide opportunities to move up to higher positions in the company or business. Create leadership positions for long standing employees or employees that have demonstrated a high level of performance. Encourage newer employees to aspire to a higher position or role and provide them with opportunities to prove themselves.
- You may decide to conduct yearly performance reviews of your employees to let them know where they stand and how they can improve their performance for the next year. Performance reviews are also a great way to reinforce positive behaviors to your employees and show them where their career at the company might be headed.
- Emphasize problem-solving. It is crucial to emphasize to your employees that they must be helpful as well as friendly. A polite and friendly sales clerk who knows nothing about the merchandise she sells will not satisfy her customers. Similarly, an employee who acknowledges a problem exists without having the ability to address it will not likely impress a customer.
- If the employee cannot provide an immediate solution, train your employees to provide a “plan of action” for how the issue will be addressed as soon as possible. For example, if a customer has called with an issue with a lawnmower she purchased, but your store will be closing in five minutes, you could promise to send a person to her home first thing in the morning to repair it.
- Teach your employees to overcompensate for any issues or complaints. This is how to attain customer service that goes “above and beyond.” Every customer should leave your store or workplace happy. Even if you or a staff member makes a mistake, the customer should still be satisfied. Do not act defensive or accuse the customer of making a mistake. Listen patiently to the customer’s complaint and offer your sincere apologies.
Then, explain how you are going to solve the service issue for the customer. The most polite employee in the world will not make up for incompetence or an inability to solve a customer’s issue.
- For example, a customer comes in with a blouse that fell apart in the washing machine. She has her receipt to prove she bought the blouse from your shop two days ago. The customer demands a refund for the blouse, as it was not cheap, but it did not hold up when washed.
- The employee calls you, the business owner, over to discuss how to best serve this customer. Start by apologizing to the customer for the poor quality of your inventory. Then, explain that though you do not do refunds (as stated on the receipt), you can offer her a gift card to the store in the full amount of the poor quality item, plus an additional discount on her next purchase. This way, the customer knows you have addressed her problem and you will not leave her dissatisfied. You should then assure the customer that you will investigate the manufacturer of the ruined clothing item and pull the remaining stock from your shelves.
- Customers who are unhappy should get incentives to return to your business. This is more likely to create goodwill than solving the problem alone.
- Listen to feedback from your employees. Your employees can provide valuable insights into possible improvements to your existing approach to quality service. Paying attention to their feedback also shows you care about what they have to say and take their opinion seriously.
- Conduct a quality survey at least once a year among your employees. Send it out by email and set a due date for the survey to be completed. You could also attach incentives or a prize draw to motivate your employees to submit their feedback.
- Maintain open communication with your employees by starting the work day with a pep talk before the doors of the store or shop open. Lay out your expectations for quality service for all customers who walk through the door.
- Demonstrate specific behaviors that show the customer that the employees value quality service, such as how to greet the customer at the door, chat with them as they pay at the register, and ask them if they would like help with a size, or would like to start a fitting room. Use concrete examples to show, rather than tell, your employees how to provide great service.
Measuring Customer Service Performance
- Determine how quickly you are able to solve problems. According to one survey, 69% of customers define “good” customer service as having their issue or problem addressed quickly and efficiently. 72% of those interviewed said things like being transferred from person to person or having to explain the situation several times were major frustrations.
Make efforts to determine how quickly you are able to address your customers’ issues. You can ask about this in a survey. For phone calls or online customer inquiries via email or chat, you can use a timer to determine how long it takes to address the problem.
- Your employees may not always have the knowledge or authorization to solve a customer’s problems. However, they should be trained to immediately identify the problem and find someone who can address the issue.
- For example, imagine that you own a beauty store and a customer has called because she wants to purchase a particular brand of nail polish, which you do not carry. Rather than tell the customer “We don’t have that,” your employee should make an immediate effort to find out how your store can get that polish for the customer and tell her when the problem is solved. This type of behavior is not only friendly, it is helpful and prompt, and it will likely increase customer loyalty to your business.
- Ask for personalized feedback from customers. Most customers like being asked for feedback. It shows them you care about their experience and are willing to improve or adjust your approach.
- Ask for customer feedback in a personal way, face to face, or via a personalized email. Acknowledge the customer’s response with a quick reply. Ask for details about the customer’s recent purchases at your store or products from your company that she has used or has issues with. Encourage the customer to explain her experience in your store or workplace and how she thinks you can improve her experience.
- Create a customer service survey. Customer satisfaction has several key components, such as emotional satisfaction, loyalty, satisfaction with specific attributes of their experience, and intent to return to your business.
Creating a survey for customers to take after each service experience will help you determine how effective your service is.
- Track emotional satisfaction by asking questions that determine the “overall quality” or happiness of the customer with her experience.
- Track loyalty by asking questions that determine whether the person would recommend your business to others. People are more likely to trust word of mouth than any other form of advertising.
- Track satisfaction with specific elements of the experience by asking targeted questions, such as “How satisfied were you with the speed of your service today?” or “How would you rate the length of time you had to wait?”
- Track the intention to return by asking questions like “Based on today, would you return?” or “Do you think your choice to visit our store was a good decision?”
- Incentivizing these surveys is a good way to get customers to complete them. Often, unhappy customers will simply not return to a place where they felt dissatisfied. However, if you offer an incentive for them to complete the survey and return to your business, such as a free dessert with the purchase of an entree or a discount on a purchase, they will be more likely to offer feedback and do business with you again.
- Track any issues or complaints. One way to track the quality of service at your business is to track any customer issues or complaints. Create a database for all customer feedback and use a scale to rank the customer’s experience (5 being highly satisfied, 1 being highly unsatisfied). Be sure to also note any detailed comments on service from customers in the database.
- You can also use a net promoter score. A net promoter score keeps tabs on the number of customers who would recommend your business to their friends. A customer who answers 9 or 10 is seen as a promoter, a customer who answers 7 or 8 is seen as passive, and a customer who gives a company a score of 6 or lower is seen as a detractor.
- By subtracting the number of detractors from the number of promoters, your company can come to a net promoter score. The higher your net promoter score is, the better you are doing at retaining your customers and keeping them satisfied.
- Put processes in place to prevent issues from occurring again. Both you and your employee handled a customer complaint well, and worked hard to resolve it. But just because the customer left happy, this doesn’t mean you simply move on. Take this as an opportunity to prevent future quality problems. Ask your employee: “What caused this problem and what can we do to ensure it never happens again?”
- Document the events that lead to the customer complaint or issue, as well as the solution your employee came up with to keep the customer happy. For example, maybe a customer needed a certain dress that afternoon, but there were none in stock in her size at the store. Rather than let the customer leave upset and empty handed, the employee called around to several other locations in the area to try to find a dress in the customer’s size and have it put on hold for the customer. The customer then left the store thrilled at receiving great customer service and will be more likely to return to the shop again.
- A possible solution to prevent this customer issue from happening again is to have more dresses in stock in a certain size and to always check the stock list at the beginning of the work day to try to prevent low stock.
- Talk to customers face-to-face. Avoid the temptation to hide behind your employees. Customers love the ability to reach management easily with their questions, complaints, and concerns. Appear in person at your business at least once a week to show your dedication to your employees and your customers. During your face-to-face interactions with employees, you can also demonstrate how to conduct quality customer service.
- Involve yourself in your business’s day to day operations. Not having a physical presence in the workplace can make you seem aloof and out of touch with your business.
Defining Your Service Goals
- Consider your business type. Small businesses often have very different customer service expectations than mega big-box stores. Understanding why people choose your store or business will help you assist your customers in getting exactly what they want out of their interaction with you.
- If you are a large company, customers will likely expect a wide selection of goods or services, low prices, and quick “in and out” shopping experiences.
- If you are a small business, personal interaction, knowledge ability, and problem-solving are very important aspects to focus on. You probably cannot offer prices as low as a mega business, but your friendly expertise will make up for it. One study suggests that 70% of customers are willing to pay higher prices if they get excellent, personalized customer service. 81% of customers believe that small businesses provide better customer service overall than big businesses.
- Create a clear vision statement. Having a clear vision statement for your customer service mission is crucial. You will incorporate this vision statement into employee training and will likely also share it with customers. Your vision statement communicates your business’s core values, what you’re all about.
- Consider examples from very successful businesses. ACE Hardware, a very successful chain of independently-owned hardware stores, has been repeatedly recognized with awards as being a top customer service provider. Their customer service vision boils down to a very simple statement: “100% helpful.” This emphasis on helpfulness, not just friendliness, has helped them compete with big-box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
- Another example is from Amazon, whose customer service vision is: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” By using a metaphor (invited guests to a party), this vision statement clearly expresses Amazon’s goals: to make customers feel welcomed and appreciated, and create a fun and enjoyable experience shopping there.
- Examine the public “face” of your business. Your employees are one aspect of your business’s public “face,” which customers interact with every day. Other representations of your business’s mission include your handling of customer service calls and interactions, your location (brick-and-mortar and/or online), and your approachability.
- This article will cover how to ensure your employees’ customer service skills in-depth a little later. In general, consider that they represent the face of your company, so make sure that they are trained to be respectful, friendly, and knowledgeable.
- How do customers interact with you? Can they get a “live person” to speak to right away, or do they have to go through automated systems? Studies suggest that customers overwhelmingly prefer to speak to a person rather than navigate an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. If you have social media presences, how quickly do you respond to questions or comments on those accounts?
- What does your business location look like? Is it laid out well, easy to access, and clearly organized? This applies to brick-and-mortar locations and your online presences.
- Do your employees and your company structure give the impression that customers are free and welcome to approach you with issues? For example, is your contact information clearly located on your website, and do customers in your physical location know who to ask or where to go with questions?
- Make sure your employees know what “quality service” means to your business. New hires and experienced workers should all know what “quality service” means to you and your business. This definition may be made up of larger ideas, like “consistency, communication, and connection”, or more specific ideas that involve specific actions or attitudes.
- For example, if you own a retail business that sells clothing, your definition of “quality service” may include specifics like “always greet the customer when she walks into the store” or “offer to start a fitting room for a customer if she is holding one or more items in her hand.”
- The definition of “good” customer service is highly dependent on your industry and your customer base. For example, a friendly, talkative salesperson might be desired in a retail setting, but customers might not want their massage therapist to be chatty. Similarly, if your customers are older, they are more likely to appreciate in-person service, whereas younger customers may be more appreciative of easy answers over social media.
Updating Your Quality Service Tools
- Implement customer friendly technology. Most people do not use cash to pay for goods and services. Your business should respond to the needs and habits of your customers. Invest in a debit and credit card machine to make it easier for your customers to pay you quickly and easily.
- If you don’t already have a Point Of Sale (POS) system, consider investing in one. A POS system is computer software that can track purchases made by your customers and what types of products or services they are buying. A POS system allows you to track what your customers prefer, what they like to buy, and how often they buy.
- A POS system will not only increase sales and help you to better market your products or services, it also makes your customer feel well taken care of. POS systems help you manage your inventory, provide special offers or promotions, and give your customer the right pricing. You won’t have to worry about accidentally selling customers out-of-stock merchandise or wrongly priced items.
- Hire a web designer to create a professional website. Your website is often the first impression your customer will see of your business. Invest in a well designed website that showcases your products and services in an appealing way.
- Make sure your website has mobile usage, as many customers will be looking at your website on their phones.
- If you cannot afford to hire a web designer, you can create your own site using Wordpress. Make sure your website features the name of your business, your business’ location, your company’s contact information and your business hours.
- Don’t neglect your social media. The internet can act as a very effective service tool for your business, especially if you use social media to your advantage. In today’s competitive environment, every business should have a strong social media presence to connect with customers and keep customers engaged in their business.
- Create a Facebook page and an Instagram account for your business. Update your social media accounts regularly and involve your employees in the process of updating and posting on the accounts. Encourage the use of a hashtag for your business, such as #TheShoeStore, to help promote your business.
- Be prepared for customer feedback on social media. Many customers will likely post their customer service experiences on your public pages. This should motivate you to instill a high level of customer service at your business to keep the postings positive!
- Link your website to your social media, such as your Facebook page, Instagram account, or Twitter account. That way, customers will be directed to your other social media accounts, and other ways to connect with your business.
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