Part 2: Results of an important new study that can help you to improve your level of customer service.
Smart Retail Management By: Ron Wolinsky
In the August/September issue of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine we reviewed the findings of an important study on superior customer service policies. Fifteen important “competencies” were presented that award-winning customer service providers find most valuable.
The study broke down fifteen skills into six Universal and nine Specific competencies. This second installment provides additional details as we look “outside the box”, to companies in other industries, for new and innovative ways to approach customer service.
Let’s now take a look at the behaviors your sales and customer service departments should consider if you are interested in providing the highest levels of customer service.
Not every one of the work behaviors will be appropriate or expected behavior for your sales or customer service employees. They will, however, taken together, provide an outline you can use when you devise job descriptions, measurement systems, employee education programs and performance reviews.
Universal Competencies and Demonstrations
1. Builds Customer Loyalty and Confidence
- Makes follow-up calls regularly to ensure customers are completely satisfied.
- Looks for ways to make things better.
- Sends information to customers without a request.
- Provides customers with information and special resources for help.
- Consults by providing customers with advice and
- Deals with customers in a trustworthy, honest and
- Uses good judgment in modifying policies and
procedures to accommodate customers.
- Makes sure customers are not kept waiting for long periods.
- Allows customers to take their time explaining situations.
- Is willing to see things from customer’s point of view.
- Remains calm and polite with complaining customers; provides help to those who need to be pampered.
- Gives own name and acknowledges customers by name.
- Shows concern for customers time by avoiding excessive small talk.
- Calls back promptly when customers have requested information.
3. Communicates Effectively
- Explains technical issues in a clear, understandable way.
- Promptly provides accurate, relevant and reliable information.
- Speaks with clarity, good choice of words and poise.
- Adjusts tone of voice, inflection, to that of the customer’s.
- Confirms customers understanding of information.
- Speaks in a persuasive manner to gain commitment to a course of action.
- Presents appropriate benefits of the company’s products and services to meet customers’ needs.
- Knows what information is necessary to help customers.
- Knows how and when to ask open and closed probes, to gather the information needed.
- Writes explanatory cover letters when sending documents.
- Writes with clarity and good organization.
- Uses correct grammar, sentence structure, spelling and vocabulary.
- Balances firmness and cordiality in addressing concerns.
- Maintains friendly, cheerful and helpful attitude.
- Transmits feeling of joy and satisfaction with job.
4. Handles stress
- Responds to customer’s courteously even when others are waiting.
- Answers the same questions repeatedly in a pleasant and polite manner.
- Works with other departments pleasantly and courteously, even under heavy pressure situations.
- Deals courteously with customers who refuse to accept advice or follow directions.
- Assures irate customers that the situation can be handled and proceeds to resolve the situation.
- Defuses customer’s hostility by acknowledging their feelings and responding in a patient, courteous manner.
- Behaves in an agreeable and reasonable manner despite interruptions, complaints, or emergencies.
- Remains calm and deals with customer anger and abuse.
5. Listens Actively
- Concentrates on words and feelings that are being communicated.
- Listens to customers patiently without interrupting.
- Clarifies and confirms customer’s understanding.
6. Demonstrates Mental Alertness
- Listens to customer’s description of a situation and makes assessment quickly and accurately.
- Asks questions to understand customer’s situations.
1. Works Well as Part of a Team
- Participates in quality improvement teams for performance improvement.
- Keeps other departments informed of customer’s situation if others are to offer assistance.
- Offers assistance to all department representatives when needed or requested.
2. Demonstrates Reliability and Loyalty
- Can be counted on to work when expected or needed.
- Speaks positively about the company.
- Displays sincere interest in seeing company achieve its goals.
3. Demonstrates Personal Motivation.
- Does more than what is expected to ensure customer satisfaction.
- Takes on new assignments in a cooperative, cheerful manner.
- Views problems as opportunities to accomplish.
- Offers assistance to peers without being asked.
- Displays initiative and resourcefulness in assisting customers.
- Spends free time developing knowledge and skills.
- Reads trade journals and newspapers to expand knowledge.
- Focuses on career goals and acts to achieve those goals.
- Asserts his or herself in a non-aggressive manner.
- Completes tasks without close supervision.
4. Solves Problems
- Asks questions to clarify and confirm situations to determine appropriate action.
- Thinks through issues and implications before suggesting solutions.
- Makes sure customers understand why problems exist and how they will be solved.
- Presents multiple customer options and provides adequate information for appropriate choices.
- Provides customers with “one stop shopping” information without having to transfer customers.
- Responds to customer questions that relate to other departments.
- Considers all factors relevant to a situation and applies logic to determine solutions.
- Perceives patterns or problems to be addressed to improve customer satisfaction.
- Recognizes restrictions and develops alternatives for a satisfactory resolution.
- Resolves disputes between customers and organization or people within the organization.
- Makes appropriate concessions or compromises.
5. Maintains Professional Image
- Dresses appropriately.
- Maintains well groomed appearance.
- Appears calm, attentive and prepared.
6. Understands Company and Industry
- Is aware of competitors’ products and services.
- Is aware of industry trends.
- Matches internal resources with needs of customers.
- Refers calls to appropriate departments when required.
- Knows how long products last, what can go wrong, and how to correct them.
- Knows what customers usually expect from customer service.
- Knows what to offer customers when their request is not available.
- Knows prices, billing procedures and company policies.
- Makes suggestions to tailor offerings to meet customer needs.
7. Maintains High Energy Level
- Works with and responds to a large number of customers every day.
- Responds attentively, politely and efficiently to all
8. Applies Technical Knowledge and Skills
- Uses numerical tables, data bases, catalogs and manuals to access important information.
- Answers and accesses data while talking and listening to customers.
- Is competent and uses technology to communicate with the customer and other departments.
9. Organizes Work Activities
- Establishes and follows priorities for completing work.
- Keeps information straight while handling multiple
- Pays attention to detail, enters all reference numbers precisely.
- Maintains accurate and up to date files on customer cases.
- Prepares to give full attention to each customer by having all accessible information.
Please take some time to go over your approach to Customer Service. How do you really define this process? What goals do you really have? Do you look at this area as an opportunity to build customer loyalty and a foundation for increased future business? How are you preparing your associates to achieve customer loyalty? Compare what you have been doing to create higher levels of customer service to the concepts presented in this article. Take what you need and then implement a program that encourages the six Universal and nine Specific Customer Service Competencies.
Our industry needs to incorporate fresh ideas and new perspectives. We are much too introspective. Remember, we must constantly re-invent ourselves if we want to remain competitive. That is a path taken by industry leaders and innovators. A mentor that I had many years ago told me, “We must constantly be moving forward. The day we stand still is the day we fall backward”.
Ron Wolinski is VP Performance Groups for Profitability Consulting. His expertise in management stems from the positions he has held such as Manager of Training for Art Van Furniture, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Contact Interiors, President of Behavioral Dimensions, Sales Education for the Simmons Company, National Director of Education and Development for Value City Furniture and most recently, Director of Education and Retail Services for La-Z-Boy, Inc.
He consults with retail organizations internationally on Consultative Selling, Communications, Leadership Skills, Organizational Development, Interviewing and Recruiting, and Customer Service. Questions relating to this article or to other related topics can be directed to Ron at email@example.com.