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Why is customer service so bloody hard?

We know we shouldn't swear, but it's true isn't it – customer service is bloody hard. We all know what makes good customer experience. We have to get the basics right (the right product at the right place at the right time) and we have to beat expectations. We have to do so with a smile and warmth. Surely this shouldn’t be so difficult, but it is.

The problem is customer service is a frontline activity. It is delivered by the person who serves you at the counter. It is the person who greets you in the hotel. It is the person who answers the phone. It is the person who delivers the product to your door. These people are at the bottom of the company pile. They are probably the least well-paid. They may not even be trained in customer service. What is more, they have less to gain from a satisfied customer than others working in the company. Sure, they may get job satisfaction from the customer expressing thanks for a good job but after eight hours trying to "go beyond" you can sympathise with why their face may slip. Many of them don’t stay in the job more than a couple of years. Some not more than a couple of months.

Why do we undervalue these ambassadors of customer service? One reason is probably because we can. There are plenty of people prepared to do these jobs despite the low wages. It is a scandal that we exploit them.

These are disturbing conclusions. It would be so much more appreciated if we could come up with suggestions as to how technology could replace these people who make customer service so bloody hard. Now, there is nothing wrong with using technology when it improves the offer. No one knows this more than Amazon. And yet, if you deal with Amazon and have a problem, you can readily find a telephone number and get through to someone who almost always will sort you out in a very quick and generous way. Amazon is obsessed with customer service and will do anything to keep the customer happy – by technology or human service.

It is never going to be easy to deliver exceptional customer service but it certainly is possible. Here are five obvious steps:

1. Work out what customers want and make sure they get it - plus a bit extra.

2. Make sure your product is good but especially polish your service. It will be the service that is remembered, revered and talked about.

3. Take special care selecting the people who will offer service. If you have to reject people because they are not service minded, so be it. If you have to pay people a good salary to do the job, so be it. Service is a critical activity.

4. Keep on your toes. Always be looking to improve. Your customers will be looking around too and they can easily have their heads turned by the competition.

5. Monitor and measure your performance. Only in this way will you be able to see if your customer experience is working and paying dividends.


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