ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum


Online Edition - October 2001

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Issue Highlight — A Day in the Life of a Fool
- A Day in the Life of a Fool asks whether
e-government will improve government or make
it more distant from those it is supposed to
serve without actually improving efficiency, as
promised.


Highly Satisfied Customers
Eight Steps to Improving Customer Satisfaction
in Your Company

Summary
Please…sorry…thank you. Is this all there is to effective customer service? Maybe for some the answer is yes, but others believe this couldn’t be further from the truth. From reading into the stance of a customer to following specific steps when dealing with a displeased client—many believe that the formula for success in this ultra-important aspect of business isn’t that easy to find.

  And while no one way has been proven more or less effective, Linda LeFebvre, director of administration at the Ashburn Ice House, believes she has found one effective method. Her technique, a process consisting of eight steps, leads not only to satisfied customers and increased business for your company, but also to a more fulfilled staff. Read on to see how LeFebvre has employed these simple steps at her small company—maybe some might work for you too.

  Bottom line benefits in this unsure economy can weigh heavily on the minds of top managers and line employees alike. But, with the struggle to keep up while trying to find a way to excel past competition, it is important to remember all facets of business can affect the success or downfall of any company. While many may place focus solely on profits, one aspect that must receive attention from any company is customer service. After all, without customers where would any organization be? Maybe your main customer base is a company to which you supply products, maybe it comes from face to face interactions with a variety of the general public. Regardless, keeping them happy may be the key to surpassing competition and enduring through economic hardship.

  Customer service can pose any number of problems when searching for quantitative results, and many have voiced their opinions on what the true key is to effective, successful customer service. Perhaps it is best to pick and choose from different techniques to find a system that works best for your company. Linda LeFebvre has done just that. After spending several years working for netASPx, a consulting company headquartered in Herndon, Vt., LeFebvre made the move to Ashburn Ice House where she is the director of administration. At this ice skating rink, LeFebvre employs her knowledge base and skills with a smaller company.

  “I made the move because I felt too many small businesses suffer from not having the infrastructure and support that large companies have,” LeFebvre states. “I am hoping to bring corporate level training and methodologies to the small business arena, helping them to achieve higher financial goals and work to become an ‘employer of choice.’” What is the key to success? For LeFebvre, it comes down to eight easy steps—all of which combine to create a comprehensive, practical approach to customer service.

Where it All Begins
In the beginning, the important thing is to truly know the employees who interact with your company’s various customers. Not everyone will have the same strengths and not everyone will have the same weaknesses. Finding out where employees differ can help to create employee-customer relationships that will complement each other and lead to lasting, lucrative associations.

  “I like to take people who have certain niche talents and focus them on specific problems we may have with clients,” LeFebvre states. “This way the client is getting someone who is very focused in the area that they are having issues in.”

  To gain a general perspective of a staff’s varying personalities, LeFebvre conducts basic personality tests, but recognizes the importance of not relying solely on these results. And the only way to truly get a perspective of the qualities unique to each individual, face-to-face interaction is a must. “People must make time to know as much about their employees as they can,” LeFebvre states. “It is important to know what their objectives and goals are in business, along with as much as they wish to share about personal events in their lives so you can celebrate them or make accommodations for them where there are issues.”

  The eight steps to improving customer satisfaction:

  1. Get to know employees who interact with customers.
  2. Get to know some of your customers—one on one.
  3. Match employees and customers who will make a good “fit” together.
  4. Everyone has to know how to read nonverbal languages.
  5. Employees need to know how to handle conflict with customers.
  6. Back up employees with training, empowerment, and a “safety net.”
  7. Give employees a role in designing their job—to increase their pride and fun in work.
  8. Do the seven above and then enjoy the ride.

  After gaining adequate knowledge of employees’ personalities, the next important step is to do the same with your customers—whose personality traits and idiosyncrasies can be just as complex as a staff’s. It is important to know them and what type of customer they are to cater your service in a way that works specifically to each situation. “The hard part about a customer is to be able to recognize that people who will be in the same vertical of business will always feel they do things uniquely—and each is a little different,” LeFebvre says. “I think that it is essential to recognize that, and to make them feel special.”

  To get a true picture of who your customer is, start by learning as much about his or her industry that you can. Not only will this allow for perspective and understanding of what the customer does, it will also help to create a connection between what you’re providing them with and how it will fit into their world. With this base knowledge, move on to learning how the customer conducts business.

  “Some people are straight shooters,” states LeFebvre. “They want direct answers; they don’t want any fluff. Others need to be comforted and guided, and you need to spend a long enough time with them to feel how they operate—both as a person and as a business.”

  After learning an adequate amount about customers and staff, it’s time to combine the two—this step may be harder than it looks. For example, if there is an outstanding employee who excels in the areas of motivation, speed, and accuracy, he or she might be the perfect fit for a fast-paced customer. But if the customer is more interested in receiving personalized service, the wise move would be to pair him or her with an employee whose strengths focus on interpersonal, long-lasting relationships.

The Unspoken Word
Knowing the employee, knowing the customer and pairing them effectively is only half the battle. There are countless aspects that can have a significant effect on these relationships, perhaps without even realizing it. Step four encourages companies to recognize the effectiveness of subtle, nonverbal cues.

  “That’s a big issue for me,” LeFebvre says. “So much of communication in my mind is nonverbal—everything from posture and facial expression to eye contact.” And LeFebvre practices what she preaches. By training her staff and conducting a series of exercises, she helps to make them aware and more capable of picking-up on these quiet cues. While recognizing the importance of all cues, LeFebvre is looking for specifics: “It’s not just the standard, ‘if someone crosses their arms they’re getting defensive.’ There’s just more to it. You must be really aware of when someone is getting agitated or notice when someone is starting to shift their weight back and forth.” Among others LeFebvre pays special attention to tone of voice, believing that this can be the easiest to pick up on, as long as employees are willing to really listen.

  “We get so caught up in defending our position or stating the policy,” LeFebvre states, “that sometimes we just don’t even listen well enough to hear if someone is coming across assertively or aggressively, or if they are just purely frustrated.”

  In the fifth step, employees must learn how to handle conflict—an aspect of business that, while sometimes uncomfortable, will almost always arise. LeFebvre finds it interesting that many employers will assume that people come naturally equipped to deal with irate customers. But the natural human response to become defensive appears ineffective. Only when employees are trained can they be expected to react in a more productive manner. “I do think it’s counterproductive to think that someone inherently knows how to deal with conflict,” LeFebvre states. “It is something that needs to be taught no differently than how you would have a procedure to handle a piece of software that’s not functioning correctly. There should be training for people to understand how to handle those circumstances.”

  One of LeFebvre’s most effective tactics to diffuse a conflict-filled situation is to use one simple phrase: “Thank you.” Thanking the customer for summoning the courage to come forward with bad news and for telling the truth will generally ease the immediate tension. After thanking the customer, it is important to follow this up with sincere listening. “Be empathic to their situation,” LeFebvre states. “Try to put yourself in their shoes. Often, the simple task of listening, truly listening, instead of putting up the defensive mode and going forth with your perspective alone is enough.”

Making it Work
The sixth step in creating an environment conducive to effective customer service is to make sure employees are happy. Providing all employees with necessary training and nurturing along with backing, empowerment, and a safety net, will help in creating the confidence in employees that is necessary to really get the job done. One way LeFebvre accomplishes this goal is through truly engaging her employees. To do this, she makes sure all employees who will be involved in carrying out any given policy or procedure are also involved in planning and rolling out the policy. “My perception of how business functions at a higher level may be in no way how it is in reality,” states LeFebvre. “So, by engaging them to be part of the process to define policy and procedure, I get immediate buy-in.”

  The seventh step is simple: Have fun. “I encourage everybody on my staff to enjoy their jobs,” LeFebvre states. “Too much time is spent at a job for you not to enjoy what you do.” So, how does LeFebvre accomplish this? Not by playing games or playing on a softball league; for her, it’s by letting employees play an active part in defining what their job is and where they would like for it to go. Thereby creating a sense of pride in what they do, all the while enjoying each other’s company.

Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride
With seven of the eight steps incorporated into her company, LeFebvre has just one step left: Reap the benefits. “And that will naturally follow,” LeFebvre contends. “Following these steps will translate through your employee base to your customer base and your customers will come back for more.”


October 2001 News for a Change Homepage

  In This Issue...
The Big Bang Theory of Teambuilding and Leadership or Listen Up!
Just a Little Suggestion
Highly Satisfied Customers
Gotcha! Office Politics at Work


 Features...
Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Pageturners
Brief Cases


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