What is 'knock your socks off customer service'?

"Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and totally human terms. Perception is all there is!" —Tom Peters, management guru

Customers are demanding. And they have every right to be. Today's customers have more options—and less time—than ever before. If your organization doesn't offer what they want or need, if you don't interact with them in a manner that meets or exceeds their expectations, or if you aren't quick about it, they will just walk on down the street—or let their fingers surf the 'net—and do business with one of your competitors.

And if you don't have customers, you don't have a job! Researchers consistently find that it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep one you already have. But many businesses think only of making the sale instead of developing long-term customer relationships. Even more disturbing, researchers also find that at any given time, as many as one customer in four is dissatisfied enough to start doing business with someone else—if he or she can find someone else who promises to do the same thing that you do but in a slightly more satisfying way. That's as many as twenty-five out of every one hundred people your organization does business with.

Most disturbing of all is the finding that only one of those twenty-five dissatisfied customers will ever tell you that he or she is dissatisfied. Today's customers are more likely to put a review on a web site (Yelp, City Search, Twitter, Facebook) that could have significant impact on your business. In fact, you've probably noticed from your own experience how rare it is to deal with customers who can do a really good job of telling you what they want. More often, they just expect you to know—and are disappointed when you don't.

That's why companies spend a lot of time and money these days observing customers as they shop—trolling the Internet, monitoring web sites, talking to them on the phone, and meeting them face-to-face. Like miners working a claim for the gold they know is there, today's businesses collect and sort customer comments, looking for the complaints and the compliments that provide clues about what people want today—and how their needs may change tomorrow.

As a customer service professional, you frequently draw on the knowledge your company has acquired about customers. But you have another, equally important source of information: your own day-to-day contact with your customers. From personal experience, you know quite a lot about what your customers want: which actions meet their expectations, which exceed them—and which disappoint them. You are the "listening post" for your organization.

That's your own special edge, the foundation on which to build your own unique way of providing Knock Your Socks Off Service.

Getting Yourself Organized: The RATER Factors

It's helpful to have a framework that captures the multiple service factors that determine the quality of a customer's experience with your company. The framework we like a lot was invented by Texas A&M researcher Dr. Leonard Berry and his colleagues at Texas A&M University. They have found that customers evaluate service quality on five factors:

  1. Reliability. The ability to provide what was promised, dependably and accurately.
  2. Assurance. The knowledge and courtesy you show to customers and your ability to convey trust, competence, and confidence.
  3. Tangibles. The physical facilities and equipment and your own (and others') appearance.
  4. Empathy. The degree of caring and individual attention you show customers.
  5. Responsiveness. The willingness to help customers promptly.

Chances are, almost everything you do to and for your customers falls into one of these categories. Consider these common examples:

  • When you fulfill a customer order on time, you show reliability.
  • When you smile and tell a customer, "I can help you with that"—and do—you build assurance.
  • When you take the time to make yourself and your work area presentable, you are paying attention to the tangibles.
  • When you are sensitive to an individual customer's needs when solving a problem, you show empathy.
  • When you notice a customer puzzling over a product and offer help and information, you show responsiveness.

All five factors are important to your customers.

TIP: Combining the first letter of each factor— Reliability, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy, Responsiveness, spells the word RATER. It is a handy way to remember these important attributes. Try organizing what you know about clients using RATER. Example: In Mr. Smith's file, next to Responsiveness, you could have a note that reminds you of his responsiveness preferences. Something like "Customer is sensitive to call backs. Return all his calls ASAP."

"Customer expectations of service organizations are loud and clear: look good, be responsive, be reassuring through courtesy and competence, be empathetic but, most of all, be reliable. Do what you said you would do. Keep the service promise." — Dr. Leonard Berry, Researcher, Texas A&M University

Reprinted, with permission, from "Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, 5th Edition" © 2012 Performance Research Associates, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by AMACOM Books, Division of American Management Association, 1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019

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