There’s little question you feel the the stress. The world is struggling out of a recession. The markets violently reel on an almost daily basis. And your employees feel the stress too. A recent study found that 40% of American workers are indifferent about their jobs. Workplace morale is lower than at any point in modern American history. Employees have had benefits slashed, wages cut, and 401ks unmatched. They’re doing the work of at least one or two former colleagues who were either not replaced during the recession or just plain laid off. And yet, in the midst of all this drama, managers are trying to further differentiate themselves from the competition. They have to slice through the low morale, terrified customers and drab economic climate and still manage to do two things: 1) get more business, 2) retain current business. How are you going to do that? You have to manage the only thing you can manage: customer service. The Truth Customer service will differentiate you from the competition in any economic climate. However, right now, that difference is more obvious. The recession-it’s horror and aftermath-has exposed the companies that have poor customer service and spotlighted those that have legendary customer service. The difference between the customer service haves and have-nots is greater than ever. An article in a 2009 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek points this out: “If anything, the tough economy has made starker the difference between companies that put customers first and those that sacrifice loyalty for short-term gain. In this year’s J.D. than half of the top 25 brands [ranked by customer service] showed improved customer service scores from last year. Among the bottom 25…scores mostly fell.” Additional studies show that companies with high levels of customer service during the recession lost less revenue (or actually gained more revenue), than the companies that have traditionally low customer service reputations or rankings. The recession has made the customer service rich, richer; and the customer service poor, poorer. It has made customer service more important than ever. The Specifics Customer service is the ‘big thing’ that can make you different. How do you begin to improve your customer interactions right now? 1) Attitude – This is the most important part of excellent customer service. Every executive, manager, and front-line employee must have an attitude of ‘owning’ every problem. Every problem. You must personally follow the problem through to the end. You must realize that helping your member is your first job (even if your official title is teller, customer service manager or janitor). Your job is to help your member. Period. 2) It Is Your Job – If you’re a front-line employee or a manager and somehow you get a call about an IT or a technical issue, your first reaction is, ‘this isn’t my job.’ After all, you don’t know anything about the question they’re asking. Heck, you don’t even know what half the words mean in the question they’re asking. This isn’t your job. Wrong. Helping them is your job! So help them. If you can’t fix the problem, find someone who can as quickly and efficiently as possible. 3) Focus On the ‘Can’ Not the ‘Can’t’ – Never ever, ever say ‘I can’t,’ or ‘I’m not allowed.’ Who cares if it’s against policy to waive a fee or process the transaction the way they want it processed? Focus on how you can help the customer. Get creative; go talk to a manager, make an exception if possible, make phone calls to business partners to help them, even to competitors if you have to-whoever! Help them no matter what! 4) Warm Transfer v. Cold Transfer -Here’s what we mean. Have you ever called a business to explain a situation/problem, you explain it once, and they transfer you? ‘I’m gonna transfer you to Frank.’ Frank picks up the phone and you have to explain who you are and why you’re calling all over again. And if that person still can’t help transfer you; and the process of repetition and explanation and frustration repeats itself. That is a cold transfer. And it’s a major problem. A warm transfer goes like this: you call to explain a situation/problem. You explain it and the employee says ‘I’m going to transfer you to Frank, she’ll be able to help you.’ But instead of pushing transfer and forgetting you, this rep calls Frank herself, with you on the line, and explains to Frank what you’ve just told her. She does the work for you, so you don’t have to explain everything 47 times. That is customer service. 5) Dealing with a Frustrated or Upset Customer – If a member gets upset, diffuse the anger. Listen to them. Don’t argue. Resist the urge to justify and defend your business, colleagues or employees. Avoid using words and phrases like ‘but’ and ‘no’ and ‘I can’t.’ Show empathy by using phrases like ‘I understand how you feel, I’d be frustrated too if…’ or ‘I’m really sorry this happened, I can fix it…’ Above all, show them that you care. They need to see that you are sincerely on your side and you are trying to help them. 6) Employee Accountability and Learning – We talked earlier about low morale among American workers. Most workplaces in America have at least one or two indifferent employees. What can you do to fix that problem? We’ve written about this before at length, but here’s the gist: create a workplace culture of learning and growing. Sure, you can try gimmicks like parties and gift cards. That will work temporarily. But any morale boost that comes from a fun party won’t last. You must create a culture of learning (or pay everybody a boatload more money). You must provide opportunities for your employees to learn and grow. Provide training and opportunities to practice customer service and sales skills; and hold them accountable for what they learn. Manage What You Can Manage It costs 4 to 5 times as much to bring in a new customer then it does to keep an existing one. What’s the best way to retain your members? You guessed it! Customer service! You can’t merely ‘hope’ for loyalty. You have to ensure loyalty. You simply cannot afford to go out and replace members you have lost. You need to keep the ones you have. And the only way to generate customer loyalty is through customer service.