Other articles in Winter 2010
Customer Service Makes the World Go ’Round
Marie Walton, CMPE
Vice-President, Client Services iMed Group, Houston, TX
Well, even if it does not necessarily make the world go ’round, good customer service certainly makes the journey less bumpy. We can all easily identify poor customer service—just think back to the last bad experience in a store or restaurant. Defining what comprises good customer service is a much more difficult task. Most agree that customer service is an organization’s ability to meet their customers’ wants and needs. However, many believe that good customer service is an organization’s ability to constantly and consistently exceed the needs of their customers.
Though our customers’ expectations and needs may differ according to our fields of service, the general rules of good customer service pertain to all of us. As I was preparing to write this article, I asked personnel in different areas of our office two questions: “Who do you consider to be your customers?” and “What do you do to provide them with good customer service?” I then analyzed their answers, incorporated them into my current research and arrived at the following common elements of good customer service:
- Be available–This element covers everything from answering your phone to returning emails. Customers want to be heard. Customers desire to reach a human being when they are trying to make contact with your organization. If at all possible, phone messages and emails should be returned within 24 hours – even if it is just to let the customer know that their message was received.
- Listen–Focus on what the customer is saying to you, be attentive, and show that you are listening to them by responding appropriately. Ask questions in order to understand their wishes and carefully listen to their answers to make sure you are meeting their needs.
- Keep your promises–Before you make any promises or commitments to a customer, make sure you can fulfill them. Keep appointments and meet deadlines. Being reliable is a key element to excellent customer service.
- Manage expectations–Many times what is perceived as poor customer service is simply a disappointed customer whose expectations were not met. This can be avoided by managing the customer’s expectations in order to have them match what you are able to deliver. Reiterate what you understand to be your commitment prior to completing the encounter with your customer. Your goal should be to exceed your customer’s expectations.
- Make customers feel important and appreciated–Customers are very sensitive and can sense whether you really care about them. Use their name (though not excessively) and take every opportunity to thank them for their confidence in you and for the opportunity to serve them.
- Be honest and sincere–Do not take advantage of your customers. Be truthful and keep what is in the best interest of the customer as your goal. People value honesty, integrity and sincerity and these traits engender confidence in you. Customers like dealing with people they can trust.
- Address complaints quickly–Nothing can ruin a positive customer service experience more than a complaint that is perceived to be ignored. Acknowledge a complaint as soon as possible and let the customer know that it is being addressed. If the customer is upset or angry, calm them with words and actions that show you take their complaint seriously. Once the customer is satisfied that their complaint is being addressed, make sure you thank them for bringing the problem to your attention. Let the customer know what you have done to resolve their complaint. Complaints should be viewed as opportunities to improve processes, policies and procedures.
- The customer is always right–While they may not technically be right, the customer believes that they are right. It is important to remember this when communicating with them and to avoid implying that they are wrong.
- Know how to apologize–When something goes wrong, apologize. Customers appreciate it, it is a simple thing to do, and it can defuse a potentially damaging situation.
- Be helpful–Assisting someone, even if it is not your job or will not reap you immediate benefits, can be a sure way of keeping existing or acquiring new customers. Help your customers understand terms and processes inherent to your organization.
- Go the extra mile–If you want to provide excellent customer service, make that extra effort. Do not just tell the customer who can help them, offer to contact them on the customer’s behalf. Customers notice when people make the extra effort.
- Use the power of “yes”–Always look for opportunities to accede to a request. Even when the answer is “no,” find a way to not have to say so directly. If possible, let the “no” decision be made by an entity other than your organization. Even if you already know that the answer to the customer’s request will be “no,” offer to inquire on their behalf and then let the customer know that the other party has denied their request. After all, there is always the possibility that something has changed and the answer will be “yes.”
- Train your staff often–Many people think customer service is instinctive but good customer service needs to be taught. Talk about what good customer service is and go over examples of both good and bad customer service and point out the differences. Use complaints you have received as teaching opportunities. Have your staff demonstrate good and bad customer service through scenarios or skits. Provide your staff with sufficient information and empower them to be able to make decisions that lead to excellent customer service. Your staff needs to be as concerned about your customers as you are. The final element of good customer service does not directly relate to customers but it is an integral part of an organization’s success in exceeding the customer’s wants and needs.
- Treat your employees well–Employees are your internal customers and need to be appreciated. Treat them with respect, thank them, let them know how important they are to you and they will treat your customers in a similar manner. Regardless of what responsibilities you have within your organization, you can apply these elements of customer service to improve your customers’ experiences. First, determine who your customer is, and then determine the process by which your organization can deliver its services or products in a way that allows the customer to access them in the most efficient, fair, cost effective, and humanly satisfying and pleasurable manner possible. Thus, you will be providing excellent customer service.
Additional training tools and information on this subject may be found in the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) website at http://www.mgma.com by entering “customer service” in the search box.