2013 Symposium: How Cam Employers Maintain Standards Of Customer Service? Higher Wages? Stricter Rules?

Cartwright: It’s really about creating a corporate culture around customer service and creating an environment where the employees are happy and want to come to work. A happy employee provides good customer service. An unhappy employee provides poor customer service. If your corporate culture is bad and you pile on stricter rules, you just alienate the employees and customer service spirals out of control as it gets sucked down the drain. I personally believe that if you take care of your employees then they will take care of you and your business. I’ve found that some of the best customer service comes from small businesses. They have a very family oriented environment with the employees. The bigger the organization gets the more corporate bullshit that gets involved; employees are less happy and this manifests in lower standards of customer service.

I think some big businesses don’t really care about customer service. They figure if you don’t like it someone else will take your place as a customer. To me, this is like the greater fool theory. Eventually, you run out of fools and you have to face the music. Small businesses are much more accommodating, in general. The dollar you spend in their store or their restaurant or their office means a lot more to them and their survival than the dollar you spend in the big box retailer.

So how do you get the employees to give customers great service? How do you create that corporate culture? I think part of it is money. People are motivated by money. An honest wage for an honest day’s work is a great motto to live by as a business owner. But also give them incentives. Maybe there are bonuses and profit sharing plans and insurance benefits. Those all add up to showing you care about the workers. No one wants to work in a place where they don’t feel like they’re appreciated or they feel like they’re just expendable. But I think there’s more to it than just money. Employees like recognition as well. They like a sense of family to some degree. If an employee needs an afternoon off to go to the doctor or is going to run late because they have an event at their kid’s school, let them do what they have to do. Don’t jerk them around about the time. Show some concern for your employees. Treat them like humans. Treat them like you would want to be treated. Be fair but don’t let them walk all over you. Just take care of your employees and let them take care of you.

Of course, you’ve got to be willing to make some tough choices when it comes to employees. You can’t be afraid to fire people. Not every employee is good for the organization, and sometimes someone needs to be let go for the best of the organization. You’ve got to do it. It’s not easy. It’s not pleasant, but sometimes you have to do it. You can’t manage to the fear that you may be sued or taken to a labor board or something. If Joe’s guilty of chronic absenteeism for no good reason or he’s not doing his job, document it and fire him. Set a precedent. That sends a message to the other employees that failure has consequences but success has rewards.

North Carolina: Employers can maintain higher standards of customer service through structured employee training programs that emphasize, from the onset, that organizational and procedural guidelines are essential to the smooth operation of a company or business. Stricter rules do provide an employee-trainee with a base of exacting parameters to follow, though harsh measures and unreasonable expectations can intimidate employees, whether new or seasoned workers. Common sense approaches, understanding of learning rates, praise for accomplishments, and rewards for implementing and following customer service standards will produce well-rounded, happy, and stable employees. Higher standards can be maintained through a concise employee training protocol, overview, and probationary period upon hire. The protocol should occur in critical steps that include 1. Product or service orientation period, 2. Acquired knowledge of the product or service being sold or presented, 3. Correct verbal and non-verbal procedures for the presentation and sale of the product or service, 4. Acknowledgement of customer value and the instilment of appropriate social interaction skills and etiquette with customers in a variety of situations, and 5. The review and reemphasizing of customer service protocol in the event of specific questions, complaints and other issues. Higher wages and employee perks are incentives for productivity but should be given in a timely and awardable period. After training, and a probationary period, the employee must be able to display the appropriate work standards, ethics and behavioral characteristics to earn higher wages. If the indicators are present, the employee should receive a higher wage, particularly after completion of a successful testing period and customer service review follow up. Superior customer service can be implemented, realized and maintained through extended employee training, probationary periods, customer service follow-up reviews, pay and perk incentives and other employee programs. Employee education is the answer to successful customer service, and happy, contented and productive customer service representatives are the catalyst to maintaining standards.

Orlando: Assuming standards of customer service are entirely dependent on employee effort, the best way to promote them is to create incentives for employees to put forth more effort by offering higher wages to employees who do so and stricter rules to penalize employees who do not put forth that effort. The resulting cultural change should keep only those employees who provide a high standard of customer service, which will pay for the increased wage. As with all economic problems, this one comes down to definition and information gathering. How can a company know it has established a high standard of customer service?

Companies like Kohls and Taco Bell use after-transaction surveys to get information about how their customers felt about their interactions with the employees of these stores. Three kinds of people will leave feedback. A very small group will do so because they received exceptional customer service. A larger group of people will fill out the survey because they had a very negative experience and wish to express their displeasure. Both of these groups would make their opinions heard either way, by requesting to speak to a manager, by writing a letter, or by telling a friend. This data is likely to reflect a significant negative bias, as people love to complain more than they love to give compliments. There’s a complex psychological process at work here, but it’s beyond the scope of this answer to provide.

A slightly smaller group of people will do so because of the incentive provided them to do so, be it a chance to win a prize or a gift card. This is the real data the company is after. They want to know what an average transaction that leaves neither an overwhelmingly positive nor an overwhelmingly negative impression looks like. These people, though, are generally instructed to leave positive feedback by employees who know they are being assessed. Even if they weren’t, they are unlikely to think critically about their customer service interaction. They got cheap tacos or discount slacks. They paid for them. They left. Their survey responses are likely to more closely resemble their mood and general disposition than the quality of customer service they received.

So the real question is not how can companies maintain customer service standards, but rather how can they know if they are or not? The real answer is that they can see what people voluntarily say about them thanks to revolutionary communication technology. Gathering data from social media brand use is the way that the 21st century company will determine how their employees are representing their brand, and how their product is perceived. As convenient as it might be to separate the two of them, it’s just not very likely. Perhaps the best way to ensure both get the attention they deserve is to provide more employee ownership. Allow employees to share more fairly in the profitability of a product. Knowing that they have a vested interest in the success of the brand will motivate them to work harder than any byzantine rewards and punishments system could.

South Carolina: With the unemployment rate as high as it is there is no reason that employers shouldn’t have the pick of the litter in their employees and prospects. So many professional workers are out of work and want to work. There is no need to keep sub-standard employees.

Employers should look for the best of the best but should be prepared to compensate them. When an employee performs well treat them like they have done well, whether that be a raise, or a bonus, or some other incentive. That being said, employees should realize there is a difference between simply doing their job and excelling at their job. Employees don’t need to be rewarded for simply working; they should be rewarded for doing better!

Employers should also invest time into training their staff. Training seminars should be viewed as an investment in their future. If you train your employees on how to excel, numbers should go up, which will allow employers to reward those who are going above and beyond. This will also lead to happier employees and better morale.

There is something to be said for stricter rules but that alone will not ensure higher standards. Paired with better training and higher pay the employee will be more willing to adhere to the stricter rules. Standing alone all stricter rules will do is create animosity. The rules should be purposeful and help to raise standards not scare the employees.

This country has fallen in its standards. Employers and employees should not be complacent. Mostly the customer should not be complacent. If someone exceeds your expectations, let them know; call the manager and tell them their employee has done well. Yes, we should let someone know if an employee fails to do their job but that should not be the only time we talk to the higher ups.

Michigan: Customer service is rare these days. I have always said that the vibe of a business comes from the top. If the owner/manager has an attitude it will trickle down. We as the customer need to report poor service. Some business owners/managers don’t know that a low grade employee is hurting their business. They should thank you for the information.

Washington, DC: One of the keys to any business’s success is the level of customer service it provides. Everybody—from employers to customers—wants to have efficient, high-quality, and reliable customer service. However, it is also a very taxing job which usually does not compensate well enough to justify its occupational hazards. What can an employer do to ensure that the customer service provided is making customers happy and willing to come back?

There are many ways an employer can achieve excellent customer service, of course. Most importantly, an employer needs to provide rigorous and comprehensive training to customer service representatives. After all, they are the ones who interact with clients on a daily basis—be it on the phone, face-to-face, or via written communication (e-mails, regular mail). As such, customer service representatives need to be very knowledgeable regarding the products and services offered by an employer; they should be well versed in all the policies regarding any issues a customer might have with them (return, exchange, etc.); they have to be able to deal with every customer, including difficult and demanding ones, in a courteous and effective manner. They need to have enough authority to address the majority of issues without delegating customers to management. Finally, they need to fulfill everything they’ve promised the customers in an expedient and satisfactory way. Also, an employer needs to focus on customer loyalty by providing incentives such as discounts, gifts, personalized attention and such to clients.

Any business is a very competitive and challenging endeavor. Thus, a company which plans to stay in business for a long time and achieve decent profit needs to remember one maxim: “The customer is always right” to ensure its success.

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