Magazine article Talent Development

The Customer Service Experience

Magazine article Talent Development

The Customer Service Experience

Article excerpt

Latchkey loyalty through embedded customer learning.

Larry Lehman is a professor of customer service. From him, I've learned how to cut mailing costs and increase administrative efficiency. He has tutored me on ways to keep my clients better informed of the benefits I can provide. He sends me educational flyers and shares innovative marketing ideas. But Larry doesn't teach at any university, and he's not a consultant or an advisor. He's the manager of the Eagle Postal Center in Dallas, near my office. Larry handles my packaging, shipping, and bulk mailing, but he gives me much more. He latchkeys my loyalty through his perpetual efforts to make me smarter. He's my customer service mentor, and one of the best I've ever had.

Despite automation and other technological advances, few people would say that they work less than they did 10 years ago; we've just added more activities and chores to fill the hole created. That means "smartness" has become a prerequisite for success. Brains have replaced brawn in the world of enterprise, and the shorter shelf-life of knowledge or skill acquisition has made continuous learning critical to survival.

"Tutor me or lose me" might not yet be the byword of customers, but smartness is a service expectation. We want software that instructs in its application and provides insight into the possibilities. Sure, we want our products to come with assembly instructions, but we also want to know about maintenance, add-on features, and upgrades. What's more, customers expect call center representatives to know about the products, not just how to order them. In fact, most people would rather have a surly expert than a polite idiot.

Turned On! co-author Roger Dow, Marriott International's general sales manager, puts it this way: "It's not enough that we impress our customers, we must instruct them as well. And since we usually can't teach them directly, we must embed learning in how we serve them."

Just embed it

Here are several ways to embed customer service learning and latchkey customer loyalty.

Insight-producing protocols. Vivian Carroll at Merrill Lynch has been my financial consultant for several years. She began her career as a teacher--a legacy she turned into a marketing advantage. She ends each financial review discussion with me by saying, "Between now and the next time we talk, here's a question I want you to think about." In other words, she gives me homework. Her questions always make me think, often leading to new insight and a deeper understanding of financial management. Such protocols as Vivian's questions help ensure consistency of practice.

In another example, at MidAmerican Energy's Customer Care Center in Davenport, Iowa, telephone reps are trained to listen for opportunities to teach customers more about energy conservation. "What else can I help you with?" can lead to more service. "What else can I help you learn?" can lead to deeper loyalty.

Come up with questions that will make customers think. Ask about your customers customers--such as, "What keeps your customer up at night?" Initially, that might evoke a blank stare, but it can start the mental wheels turning and lead to other learning opportunities.

When you conduct a focus group or interview a customer, ask such blue-sky questions as, "What service is no one currently providing that might be of value to you now or in the future?" and "What are ways we can make your life better in a way no one like us is doing?"

Hard-wired wisdom. We're on the edge of the "smart everything" era. Our automobiles tell us when to change the oil; our online grocery stores suggest we check our stock of condiments (You should be almost out of salt) ; and our desktop computers cue us that our mother-in-law's birthday is approaching. Hotels remember our preference of pillows, pizza deliverers remember our preferred toppings, and express mail deliverers know where we leave packages for pickup. …

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