It’s a sensitive time, and customer service has never been needed more. People are vulnerable and scared. They aren’t going to act rationally sometimes, and emotions can take over when people are driven by fear.
It’s important as an entrepreneur, a leader, and a professional to strive to make customer service a priority. It’s harder these days, with normal processes out of whack, but that’s what makes it so important to focus on — other companies in your industry are dropping the ball.
Given all this, I reflected on my relationships with different people, and one stood out for maintaining excellent customer service, even throughout the chaos of the pandemic. Eric Morrison, the market president of Providence Bank, one of the financial institutions I’ve banked with for a while, made a point to be available for questions and walk us through processes we weren’t familiar with. Over the years, I’ve been impressed with his level of customer service and how he handles situations compared to other service providers.
Recently, I sat down with him to take notes on the key factors in his mind when he’s staying focused on customer service. I looked at it from both the perspective of what I’ve valued and what others can learn from my experience and his insights. Here are seven lessons we came up with:
1. Care beyond the professional relationship.
In the past, it was viewed poorly if you were unable to keep things purely professional with a customer. However, getting personal is becoming an important aspect of our business culture, differentiating companies that care from companies that simply profit. People want realness and authenticity, and a part of that is adding some personality and depth to a relationship. Get to know about customers’ families, hobbies, and preferences — these details will not only help you personalize your service, but also ensure you’re doing what you can to boost your customers’ well-being.
2. Emphasize your core values consistently.
Core values are emphasized as we build our company’s culture. They get us out of bed every morning, and they motivate our employees to go above and beyond. During a crisis, it’s easy to stray from these to survive, but it’s important to stick with them. Consistent examples of when these core values have been met should be regularly communicated to the full team. They underscore how much you value being great, not just surviving. Those are the kinds of companies people want to buy from and the kinds of companies people want to work for.
3. Recognize that it’s OK that you don’t have the answer at the moment.
Being a resource doesn’t mean we have all the answers. Sometimes, you can feel desperate to garner business, leading you to say something you don’t know to be true simply to seem like an expert. “I don’t know” is sometimes the right answer. Acting like you know is a disservice to the client, and it doesn’t set a foundation for trust. Pandemic or not, that’s not how you build a lasting relationship.
4. Keep expectations clear.
Keeping expectations clear with clients is important. For example, simply saying, “Our next steps are ‘X,’ and you can expect we will be back in touch by ‘Y’” can set realistic expectations and eliminate confusion. A common formula that I hear about success with expectations is success = results – expectations, which is important to remember for any customer service experience.
5. Take ownership.
Too often, you hear people refer to delays in processes or challenges they’re facing internally in terms of faceless people: “my bosses,” “the powers that be,” “the people in credit approval.” It fosters a lack of clarity for customers and creates a blame game that doesn’t need to exist. Sometimes, “we dropped the ball” can be a powerful conduit to building a long-term relationship. Rather than focus on what went wrong, tell the customer what you can do — and make it clear you’re happy and willing to help.
6. Break down barriers for approval.
Within an organization, It’s important to have open lines of communication between ownership or leadership and the people granting approvals. There are unique situations when customers have particularly complicated or layered problems that others don’t. Those need to be considered deviations from the normal process. However, you can’t act like those are so rare that you’ll deal with them on a case-by-case basis — it’s important to make sure you put processes in place to prevent customers from enduring unnecessarily long waits.
7. Focus on leadership in service.
A good leader is accessible. It’s important to show you care through action. Your attention and support as a servant leader is not driven by revenue, it is driven by a need and a community. If you are not willing to answer the call and show them respect, you can’t expect loyalty. Long-term relationships are often forged in the challenging times. It’s easy to be there in the good times, but who is there when you need them most? The customer wants to know you will be there and can be counted on to show up for them. Leaders and customers are partners in business and as such, every relationship deserves respect, loyalty and sometimes a champion when needed.
In crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to focus on how your company will make it out alive. But it’s vital to remember that it’s not just about you — it’s also about how the people in the community around you are doing. Focus on giving them the best service you can, and the survival aspect is more likely to take care of itself.
John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a scheduling and time management app. You can book him as a keynote speaker here and you can check out his best-selling book “Top of Mind.” Sign up for Calendar here.