When it comes to looking after our customers, quite often there is a gap -- a huge gap --between theory and practice. There are books about customer relations; there are videos about customer relations; there are gurus (mostly self-appointed) for customer relations. None of them actually have to deliver customer service. That chore is left to the foot soldiers -- the frontline people -- your
frontline people. So what do they make of it all?
You know about Pareto's Law? Yes, that one, the one that says 80 percent of the business comes from 20 percent of the customers? Well, it (almost) applies in this case.
More than 80 percent of frontline staff have not yet totally bought into the idea of effective customer relations. The other 20 percent have discovered a very enriching way of achieving a satisfactory outcome from interactions with customers. In other words, most of the time they succeed. And when they succeed, the customers actually thank them!
This Can't Be About You -- Can It?
So what's the problem? The first answer is: "the directors," and the next answer is "the managers."
"Nonsense," you say. "I am one of those, and I have explained very earnestly why we must all focus on achieving first-class relations with customers."
That may be true, but creating business and profit-enhancing relations with customers requires the right environment, ethos, culture and philosophy. You cannot achieve it by simply telling other people to do it. You can train them in the techniques for turning "difficult" phone calls around, but if they do not feel like doing it, then they will not do it.
If you and your whole organization do not believe in developing good relations with all of your customers -- it will not happen.
Check Your Surroundings
When so much time and money is spent on training people about the need for constructive relations with customers, why is it often so bad? For much the same reason that, when so much money has been spent on telling people that smoking kills you, they still insist on smoking. The issue is the environment.
There used to be spittoons in bars. What is a spittoon? It's a bowl or bucket into which people spit. Oh yes, people used to spit into spittoons. They spat because they chewed tobacco; they spat because they had -- please forgive the term -- phlegm. For whatever reason, they spat. And so there were spittoons.
As long as the environment accepted people spitting, there were spittoons. Once that environment changed, the very idea was repulsive. Which gets us back to relations with customers.
So long as the environment in your organization is tolerant of taking a patronizing, competing or negative attitude to customers, some people will do just that.
What Does That Mean?
Jargon obscures. There are various terms used, such as customer relations, customer care, customer service, customer support, and a few more besides.
The term "customer relations" refers to the principles and practices used by everyone across the board in a company in developing and maintaining a certain quality of relationship with customers and prospective customers.
Customer care refers to the techniques and attitudes necessary to deliver a high quality of service to customers.
Customer service/support/helpline refers specifically to a department set up to field inquiries and complaints from customers so that operational departments need not spend time dealing with them.
When discussing customer relations, we are not just referring to the work of a customer service department. We need to look at the whole company-wide approach to customer care.
In order to establish successful customer relations, a cohesive customer care philosophy has to be not only conveyed to the entire company, but implemented, taught, and followed closely. To bridge the gap between good customer service intentions and poor execution, top-level management and the people actually taking the customers' phone calls have to be on the same page.
© 2017 Jonathan Farrington under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.