The title “Service Industry” is a broad and encompassing term that includes business enterprises ranging from courier and delivery to the high tech industry; from the grocery to the gas station to the hospital and all businesses in between. Obviously, various business ventures are geared to present their wares to particular clients and customers but they all have a common thread – service to their clientele. This “service” may be excellent or it may be horrendous. In these articles we will explore the concepts of service and repercussions of the good, the mediocre and the bad with the intention of improving the service commitment of the readers to their customer.
My personal background in the service industry is in the telecommunications field. Beginning my career in 1970 with the Bell System before Divestiture, I left after the government forced the breakup of Ma Bell and have been in the private business world of telecommunications ever since.
During the early years of my career I was taught the importance of customer service and maintaining the correct relationship to customers. Two of the Bell System’s top priorities were “safety” and “customer service”; safety for the employees and service for the customer which included a high quality in the standard of work practices and ethic.
Becoming a business owner, I was introduced to business world situations that a novice could never have dreamed of and it is always rewarding to work through them. I believe that our strong commitment to service excellence is what has carried our company for 22 years. The service excellence ethic that I had been taught and conformed to was easily incorporated into my business. Instilling this ethic into the hearts of technicians that haven’t come from that environment has always been the challenge. Some get it and make great team members. We all agree that everyone in our business has basically the same products and pricing. What sets us apart is our commitment to our customer’s needs when they need us.
THE QUEST FOR SERVICE EXCELLENCE
The particular industry with which you are connected doesn’t matter. The concepts that we will discuss remain valid for all with the result being to safely provide a quality product to your customer and make a profit in the process.
When we hear the word “service” in the context of the business world, it brings to mind someone providing a desired product, tangible or not, to someone else. This product should be designed to bring satisfaction to the customer and bring them to the point of willingly rendering legal tender to the provider. When it all works properly, the customer is satisfied with the product and the provider makes a reasonable profit and is able to comfortably seek another customer and not be apprehensive to invite former customers back.
Of course, I have just explained free enterprise and what happens when the system is employed properly. The proper understanding of providing service to customers and clients makes the American economy tick. The misunderstanding of providing customer service makes consumers sick.
May I say up front that making a profit is not a sin to be shunned but is the backbone of free enterprise. The potential of owning a profitable business keeps the entrepreneur focused on his goals and this in turn provides jobs to the economy. As in anything else in this world, overindulgence and the extravagant and unnecessary profit by taking advantage of others is wrong. But the enjoyment of a reasonable profit for a business will keep that business alive and healthy for you, the customer to return and claim that great product again.
IT ALL BEGINS WITH ATTITUDE
A Service Manager who I know told his boss, “We have spoiled our customers!” The boss said, “Yes, we want every one of them to think that we have our tools in hand and our hand on the doorknob just waiting for their call.” That’s the service attitude it takes.
In our next posts we will discuss Service Attitude, Performance, Leadership and Stories and Experiences of the sometimes roller coaster ride and never dull life in the service business.
LIFE IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY PART 2
IT ALL BEGINS WITH ATTITUDE
Providing great customer service starts when you get up each day. It begins with ATTITUDE. I don’t believe this is just a simple cliché. The life you live each day begins with an attitude of some kind. Abraham Lincoln said words to the effect that a man is just about as happy as he makes up his mind to be. I have seen that to be true with a service mindset also. You can allow situations to occupy your thinking or you can put those aside, concentrate on providing properly for your customer and then pick them up later at an appropriate time. Don’t worry. They will be there waiting for you.
We know that most days are filled with challenges of all kinds. Employees, schedules, equipment breakdowns, customer complaints…the list goes on. So if you know at the outset this is going to be the usual day, why begin in a grumpy mood? You already have a head start on it by knowing what to expect, so make it a positive. You are only making your day more difficult if you dwell on the negative that will come. Be tenacious as you greet each new challenge. When you work through it to success, your reward of satisfaction will be awesome; and if a customer witnesses your positive approach to their problem, you will raise your value with them.
A good example from our industry is when a customer is having problems with one of their service providers, i.e. local phone company, internet or long distance provider. Many times they can’t relate the problem they are having properly and talk the tech language that is required. The customer is always relieved when we step in, spend the time with the support group and follow the trouble ticket to completion. We assure them that we will take care of the situation and that they can get back to doing what they do best in their business.
Sales turnaround specialist Lou Ludwig says, “If we don’t wow them, it’s likely that we won’t do business with them…this is not a casual occurrence, it’s a planned and consistent activity.” Looking for ways to “wow” customers should be a daily exercise. Many times the seemingly insignificant things will speak the loudest to customers.
Another example from our experience is brought to mind. More than once we have been congratulated on leaving our work area like we found it or in better condition. We have all seen cluttered, dirty closets where communications equipment is located. That closet may not have been swept in the last 10 years, but when we left it was clean. For the observant customer, this speaks volumes about who we are.
Now, relate these examples to your personal industry. How can you perform a little better and provide a “wow” for your next customer? Maybe an extra special greeting to them when they walk in; maybe a little something additional added at no cost to their purchase; maybe asking them how their family is. One wise man said, “Everyone walks through life with a sign around their neck that says ‘make me feel important’.” If we can make that customer feel that they are important to us, they will be back time and time again.
I once employed a technician that was not a very good technician. However, he had the people skills that a service company should fervently seek. Customers loved him and even stood up for him when he needed to be reprimanded on a particular job. And they insisted that I and my service manager get to the bottom of the problem, because it certainly could not be the technician’s fault. So, we reworked the job and solved the problem without pressing the issue. The customer relationship was worth more than the immediate understanding of where the blame actually lay.
Are you attacking each day with a great customer service attitude? Is your priority to provide service excellence or just to make a profit? These two goals go hand in hand, and I believe the attitude of customer service comes first. If you are striving daily to provide the quality product that your customer desires, you are stretching a long way toward continuing to build a profitable business.
So, as the old song says, “Put on a happy face” and enjoy providing the service that you are capable of.
This will bring us next time to performance. You can say it all day long, but you must do it!
LIFE IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY – PART 3
Performance is the key to your longevity in business. If you are in business, then you have put your reputation on the line as a performer that can get the job done. As you continually prove to your customers that you can perform, they will beat a trail back to your door when they need the service or product you provide. If you do not perform and have an unconcerned attitude for performing, then fold your tent, it’s just a matter of time.
Over the years I have been a witness to many varied personalities and attitudes in the service industry. Here are some examples:
1 – I have seen megalomaniacs who wanted everyone to know that they were God’s gift to their field of expertise. One such technician worked for me. He was a very intelligent person but could not perform when it came to customer or other employee relations. When I finally terminated him he was completely offended and questioned my decision, as he put it, “You don’t want to work with me anymore?” This was after I had presented 2 pages of customer complaints that had been discussed previously to no avail. He just couldn’t get past his own greatness. To my dismay, I waited too long to get this done and lost some business in the process.
Another such individual was a business owner. He was a friend and a very intelligent person. But his visions of grandeur about who he was became a flaw that he could not overcome and led to his company’s collapse because of his non performance with his customers.
These types of individuals are not willing to do whatever it takes to perform and provide customer service. In their world they are right every time and in all situations, and this leads to a less than acceptable performance level.
2 – On the other hand, I have seen people enter the workforce with no background in our business and become outstanding service performers because they realized that the most important aspect of our business is our customer. As we said last time, it all begins with attitude. The attitude to learn the business and perform for the customer is a gold mine for a small business owner when he finds this individual.
One young man came from the retail industry as a store manager. He had no technical background or computer skills. My concern was how he would acclimate to the high tech world. His attitude and customer skills propelled him to eventually be our service manager, overseeing a team of technical service performers daily.
We have all had less than desirable experiences with service providers. Maybe it does not bother you as it does me or maybe you’re not as sensitive to it as I. But when I see a waitperson or technician or delivery driver, etc with a frown or a trite attitude it really affects me in a negative way.
I realize that the situations in people’s lives are many and varied and can very easily become outwardly expressed in facial and voice expression. But this is what we have been discussing; you must get past this and concentrate on your customer for the long haul. They have problems too. Don’t provide an outlet in attitude and/or body language that potentially will ruin that relationship.
When a customer has a need, the good service performer goes to work to fill that need. If it’s a product, they will provide it; if it’s a service, they will get it accomplished; if it is working through a problem, their mindset will be, “It ain’t over until I win!” The businesses that employ people with these attitudes will perform and be recognized as the best in their industry.
In the best seller Good to Great, Jim Collins writes, “When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magic alchemy of great performance.” This is the prescription for maximum performance; the discipline of service excellence and the strong commitment to the work ethic. Mix them together and be proud of your service performance.