Friday 31 August 2007

It's raining training!

Every month, every week, sometimes it seems like every day I see advertisements, announcements and reports of training taking place. It could be our government sending people to far-flung places to learn things that are utterly pointless, it could be people being sent on courses at home to develop skills that are so completely obvious even my 8-year old son knows them or it could be seminars, workshops and conferences that are nothing more than just stupendously expensive.

Have you ever noticed that the level of expenditure on training seems to inversely proportional to the benefit gained from it? The more money spent the less useful it is. A 3-day conference you spend P3,000 on attending will give you almost no return on your investment. A 1-day seminar for P1,000 will be moderately worthless. A book you buy for P100 at an airport could be reasonably useful. A copy of Mmegi with some useful news and, of course, this column, will be worth a small fortune but will only cost you P3.

Spending money on a problem is rarely the best solution. Almost always the solution to a problem is a combination of imagination, hard work and, most importantly of all, execution.

This is even more the case when it comes to customer service. You and I will not benefit even slightly by spending a month’s salary to go to a conference or workshop on how to deal effectively with customers. Even if it is someone else’s money.

Achieving excellent customer service is hard work but the principles behind it are actually very simple. Here, yet again, and entirely for free is your Consumer Watchdog guide on how to do customer service for beginners.

To begin with when a customer arrives look them in the eye, pause for exactly one breath and then smile. Give the impression that you are glad they came.

When a customer asks for something do your level best to give the impression that you care about it. Go find what they want and give it to them. If you don’t have it or can’t find it be honest, don’t make up stories, just apologise and tell the truth. Try and find a solution that is either a good second best or perhaps even better than what the customer originally wanted. Smile every so often while doing this.

When a customer complains, give the impression that you are treating their complaint seriously. Stop smiling and say something like “I am REALLY sorry we let you down, let me do my best to fix this for you.” Then fix it. Don’t make excuses, just fix it. If by chance the customer made a mistake still do your best to fix the problem, even though technically you don’t have to. If the customer is unreasonable then by all means stand up for yourself and for your staff, but give the customer the benefit of the doubt first.

When a customer leaves again look them in the eye and tell that you are glad they came and that you hope to see them again soon. Do not, under any circumstances, say “Have a nice day”.

When you get a free moment (yes even the busiest of us have them occasionally) take a look at the way your business operates. Does it put the customer’s interests above your own or does it just make life simple for you and your colleagues? Do not engage a consultant to do this. No, do not. Not until you have had a go yourself first. Only when you have identified some problems should you look to an outsider to assist.

Only hire people who can ALREADY do customer service well. Do NOT hire people who you think you can train to do it at some later stage. If they can’t do it now there’s no way they’ll be able to do it later having attended some pointless training session.

Be honest. Be scrupulously honest. Go one stage further and go out of your way to be open about things like contracts and conditions. Remember that only companies with something they know they should feel guilty about keep their contractual terms secret. Only companies with something to hide refuse to let their customers see contracts before they sign them. Only particularly unscrupulous ones refuse to let you take a contract home to think about it before you sign it. Do you want to be a company like that?

There you go. Lesson over. Now you don’t need to go to some hideously expensive conference to hear the same old things repeated yet again, you don’t even need to buy that book at the airport. All you need to do is apply the simple rules. Yes, apply them. Don’t just think about it, don’t hold meetings about it, don’t form teams and committees, just do it. JFDI. Execution, not contemplation .

There is absolutely nothing to stop you doing all of this. If you just stop thinking about it and doing it, who knows what might happen. You might even make a fortune.

This week’s stars!

  • Solomon from the PABX team at BTC for having the guts to apologise for a failure and for making sure it got fixed as soon as possible.
  • The team at Primi Piatti for the millionth time for demonstrating how well it can be done.

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