Customer Service begins at the top

Top Executive at work

One of the frustrating experiences of a Customer Service representative is having an expectation or directive from the company’s top management to offer excellent service to customers yet receiving no real commitment from the same management. The company as a whole has no realistic customer oriented vision or mission, it lacks a strategy for truly satisfying her customers, and feedback from customers is never taken seriously unless it’s about to degenerate into a PR crisis.

The global drive towards excellent customer service has been on now for no less than two decades, yet for many companies, it’s still just an issue for a department. The company is yet to grasp that customer satisfaction is not an aspect of the business; it is the business. We simply cannot offer excellent service unless the whole company believes in it and aligns all – I mean all – her processes, goals, and decisions toward this aim. It affects every department. Finance should believe this, HR should buy into it, and Operations should practice it. And the key driver of the whole process has to be top management. If they neglect this or merely offer shoddy support, you might as well close the Customer Service department and tell your customers to go elsewhere. And, believe me, they have options.

The company’s top management must not just preach excellent customer service, it must not just state on the company’s website or corporate documents that “Our customer is our priority”, or some similar cliché. It must show this commitment to the customer in how it designs its products, processes, and systems. The security official at the gate must understand that the customer really is king and not treat every potential one like a possible terrorist. The front line personnel should be confident that she can really go the extra mile for a customer and not be held back by an antiquated ‘policy’.

So much more can be done, but it starts with management really believing in customer service.



What’s your Customer worth?

Service pixWhile offering good service does not depend on the financial return involved, it’s still helpful to consider the true financial worth of every customer we currently serve. Like I often emphasize, businesses fail to offer good service because they are thinking short term. How much is this person paying or buying right now? What value are we deriving from her in the present? However, when we shift our focus from what the person is purchasing right now to her value over a lifetime of transactions, it helps us form a better estimate of today’s encounter.

Supposing our customer, let’s call her Mrs. Garba, is an online buyer of domestic appliances. She buys N3,500 worth of kitchen utensils monthly, and she would go on to remain a customer for seven years. How can we determine her customer lifetime value or CLV?

A simple approach is to apply the formula below:

CLV Formula




Mrs Garba’s CLV, therefore, would be N3,500 X 12 X 7 = N294,000.

This simple arithmetic helps us realize that Mrs Garba’s value to our business goes beyond the mere N3,500 she is spending right now. She is worth a whole lot more!

Marketing is about Value

Marketing is the lifeblood of every business. It is the fuel which keeps the engine running. Without customers, the business would close shop.

We often think about this aspect of business as the activity of bringing in customers. While this is true, it goes beyond that. The core term which captures all that marketing is about is the word Value. And this refers to the benefit which the firm or company or business provides for those it serves. It is the heart of every business.

The popular paradigm for discussing marketing is the marketing mix (shown below), which shows the interaction among the 4 concepts of Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement.



Central to all these concepts or activities is value. Determining the nature of product or service to be provided, how it is to be communicated to the target market, the price at which it is to be offered, as well as the means by which it is made available to consumers – all revolve around the core benefit which the business is providing.  Keeping this concept central helps us think clearly and make better customer-oriented decisions.

Dealing with difficult customers

Have you ever had a client or customer who was boiling with rage and was threatening to bring down your entire business? Perhaps you interact with customers over the phone. You might have received a call from a bitter customer who felt he was cheated by your company. How did you handle such a challenge?

Within Customer Service, it is usual to refer to such customers as ‘Irate customers’. And it is helpful to know how to handle such cases before they arise.

Young woman on terrace using mobile phone

First, it is important to know that an irate client is not necessarily an ‘evil’, ‘troublesome’, or ‘aggressive’ person. In many cases, they are simply ordinary individuals who became deeply infuriated about a certain act of service failure. And such cases often arise after repeated failures from the organization. It is also sometimes the case that the person is simply a very expressive or demanding customer who will not overlook poor service.

So how should we respond?

  • Don’t tell the person to calm down. It will only worsen the situation.
  • Gently apologize and try to assure the person that she has your attention. If she’s a walk-in customer, find a way to pull her aside and sit with her to discuss the problem.
  • Allow her to verbalize her feelings and frustrations (even if some of it is not directly related to the issue at hand) and listen completely.
  • Remain calm and don’t take her utterances personal; she is merely venting over ‘poor service’.
  • Apologize sincerely and patiently explain what you will do to resolve the issue. Keep in mind that all the customer really wants is ‘an answer’.
  • Follow through promptly with the resolution.
  • After the incident is resolved, follow up later with a call to ensure she is truly satisfied. This will also help to preserve the brand image of the business. Remember that one dissatisfied customer will complain to at least five people about the poor service she received (and that was before social media!).
  • If you encounter an irate customer who is too difficult to handle, it is wise to escalate to a superior. But if the client becomes violent, please alert a security official. Violence is never justified.

Most cases, however, do not warrant enlisting a third party. With a dose of empathy, a cup of tact, and a spoonful of empathy, you can resolve the situation and get your customer smiling again.

When Service fails


Customers don’t expect you to be perfect.

They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.

–Donald Porter

It is not news that service sometimes fails. A client’s complaint is not responded to. A test result is delayed at the hospital. Your mechanic forgets to change the oil in your car. Service does fail. The crucial factor is what an organization or individual does about it. This is what proves that one is truly service oriented. According to Kristin Baird of the Baird Group, the real test of excellence is when a bad experience is honestly addressed and swiftly turned around. How then can a business go about recovering the goodwill and satisfaction of her customers after a service failure? The essential thing about service recovery is to have a plan before the failure occurs and ensure that the service representatives understand the process.

And such a plan would include the following:

  • Invite and encourage your customers to express their discontent. Provide channels like toll-free lines, complaint boxes, mail boxes, where customers can easily voice out their perceived problems with your business or service process. In addition, listen for off hand comments and remarks which could be pointers to defects in your system. A comment like, “I wish there were more tellers at this branch” could indicate that your bank customers are underserved.

  • Don’t wait for customers to complain; examine your existing process and look for possible areas of service failure. When you discover these points, act promptly to correct them.

  • When service actually goes bad, the first thing to do is apologize. I know many companies discourage their staff from apologizing too quickly. This is because, it is believed, apologizing would imply you admit you are wrong and could make you liable should the customer decide to sue you. However, let’s consider this for a minute. What happens if you do not apologize? You lose a customer, and probably lots more through negative publicity. Besides, if you were actually wrong, it’s simple courtesy (and respect) to apologize. And remember, Business IS about people (your customers) and not your ego. So apologize for the bad experience and move on to the next step.

  • Get the issue resolved promptly. Find out what went wrong and fix it. It makes no sense for a tailor, for instance, to damage my beautiful ankara outfit, and offer a hymn to me in apology, without thinking of how to correct the damage. Or imagine your bank wrongly debiting your account and sending you a nicely written ‘We are Sorry’ card, with no mention that the error has been reversed. It simply doesn’t count.

  • Close the loop and give feedback to the customer. When service fails, the customer wants to know it’s been corrected. So let her know. Don’t keep her wondering whether she should switch to someone else. Make her believe you know what you are doing and that she can give you another chance.

When should you favor customer experience over profits? Never! – Think customers: The 1to1 Blog

When should you favor customer experience over profits? Never! – Think customers: The 1to1 Blog.

Here is an interesting article on being mindful of profit in seeking to improve customer experience. However, please try to read the comments on the article. I think you’ll find them enlightening.