Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Personal Customer Service Standards Build Your Reputation

When I worked in corporate America, my own personal obsession was customer service. “Customer service should be in everyone’s job description,” I would tell my employees at about every chance I got. “We all have customers, even if we don’t work in Customer Service.” One of my own standards was to get back to people within 24 hours, even if we didn’t have an answer for them, just to let them know we got their message and were working on it.

Although I wish it were so, not everyone shares my philosophy. Lately I have been experiencing a wide range of “personal customer service” behavior, or what could also be called simple professional courtesy.

My more senior clients are unfailingly professional. They always answer my emails, although some take much longer than others to do so. They give me a heads-up, usually several days ahead, if they have a conflict with an appointment. They come to coaching sessions prepared, knowing what they want to talk about.

Recently I have taken on more “high-potential” clients. These clients often miss coaching appointments without notice. They rarely respond to my emails. They don’t return my phone calls. They come unprepared to the coaching sessions.

Some may question that with this behavior, are they really “high-potential” employees? Actually, for this organization, they are. They went through a stringent selection process to be accepted into the leadership program. One participant has already been promoted into a leadership position. Yet another, however, was turned down for a promotion due to consistent tardiness.

What’s puzzling to me is the organization that sponsors this leadership development program is known for it’s excellent customer service. When I am there, employees always smile and are consistently polite, helpful, and treat me like I’m important. Why then, are so many of the high potentials not exhibiting the basics of customer service like returning a phone call?

These “high-pos” range in age from early twenties to mid-forties. So although the majority are younger than my senior clients, some are similar in age. I don’t think age or generation makes any difference.

I believe that lacking common courtesy shows a lack of professionalism that should be a red flag for senior managers when considering who to promote. Certainly, other factors will carry more weight: a track record of results, people skills, intelligence and potential. However, common courtesies are part of people skills and not engaging in them indicates a lack of respect for others. Essentially, this is a case of not meeting expectations at a basic level – especially when you consider the importance of customer service to the culture and business model of this organization.

I was sharing my observations with a community college teacher, and was told similar stories. “I’ve decided not to give any more recommendations. I’m tired of not even getting a ‘thank you’ for writing them,” he told me. “Why would I recommend someone who can’t be bothered to say thank you?”

When we have our own personal “customer service standards” that we adhere to, these repeated small gestures help create our own personal brand that affects our reputation and our success. When an entire team upholds service standards, it directly affects the culture and the business.

I encourage you to make customer service part of everyone’s job description. Gather your employees to determine exactly what behaviors define customer service for your team. Then keep your folks accountable to it, and appreciate it when you see it. Your workplace will be more pleasant, your team will get a great reputation, and I guarantee you will generate repeat business as people will enjoy interacting with you and your colleagues.

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