Gaffes can thwart customer service improvement efforts

Companies getting 9 out of 10 customer service enhancement efforts right often learn that it’s the one that goes wrong that gets most remembered and reported.

A Forbes.com article by Micah Solomon entitled, “5 Customer Service Mistakes Even The Experts Make,” notes, “Blind spots can sabotage the thinking of even the most well-versed and experienced experts. Here are five areas I’ve seen expert advice in customer service and customer experience go off course from time to time.”

Those five areas are:

“1. Focusing on first impressions but neglecting the importance of last impressions.”

Hospitality and hospital examples come to mind. I’ve taken two cruises, one high-end and one economy. Unfortunately, the parting impression disturbed me in both cases. Your stuff gets tossed in a big room and you wait around to depart. It’s as though they’re so busy setting up a good first impression for the next group that they totally forgot the one still on the ship.

Another involves a friend who suffered a heart attack. While walking out of the hospital, he’s presented with a humongous bill that could have triggered another heart attack. It’s one thing to be timely with bills; but this approach is clearly stupid and unnecessary. No matter what he thought of his care, the last impression of the hospital certainly couldn’t have been positive.

“2. Failing to realize that customer experiences depend as much on subtle, textural impressions as they do on grand gestures. It’s startling how much the little stuff matters to customers.”

Last year, I stayed in a mountain hotel that, for the most part, did a good job. However, annoyances added up—such as a pathetic lack of well-placed electrical outlets. I finally had to ask for an extension cord and jury-rig the room. It may seem like a little thing to many, but to me it was a big oversight that showed a lack of attention to detail. There were other “small” issues (a leaking coffee pot, a broken room safe) that added up to a less-than-stellar evaluation. NOTE: We will be addressing the “little things” in a series starting next week.

“3. Assuming that bosses know more than employees. While it is essential to get buy-in from leadership for any customer service training program or initiative…employees who know the most in many ways about the customer experience–the experts, in other words–are the frontline, customer-facing employees.”

Well, duh! If employees in the aforementioned hotel had been energized and empowered to keep rooms pristine, there likely wouldn’t have been the problems that turned my visit from fine to frown.

4. Neglecting the innovations and best practices of other industries…a business, in a customer’s mind, needs to measure up to the best of what that customer has encountered–not just from competitive businesses, but anywhere.”

There’s always room for improvement. The companies that get this also understand the importance of monitoring developments outside their immediate sphere for ideas and insights that can further improve customer service. It also will help the company determine where they stand among competitors in all customer service-oriented areas.

“5. Thinking that customers always know, and can articulate, what they want.”…A challenge in creating or improving the customer experience is that customers have a hard time articulating, or even knowing, what is valuable to them, after they have experienced it.”

This is where feedback can be invaluable. By asking a series of questions, via survey, one-on-one discussion or other means, companies can gather insightful intel about how well they did in the customer service arena. While online surveys have become so ubiquitous that they can get annoying, it’s critical to get candid feedback one way or another.

Where feasible, this can be effectively and efficiently done on-site, in the moment. For example, if the hospital noted above had spent a couple minutes inquiring about their customer service instead of slapping a bill in the guy’s face as he left the hospital, they would have gotten fresh, useful information to help improve customer service. They likely also would have gotten a better evaluation.

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Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

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