It’s a buyer’s market right now, in nearly every business out there. But those buyers are buying very carefully. What that means is, along with wanting great pricing, super delivery terms, and amazing warranties, people also want to be reassured that what they’re buying will last. They also want to know that what they already own can be maintained, repaired, or re-vamped, as we enter a new era of frugality. Companies can ensure their consumers feel this way by delivering a superior customer service experience. It’s easy to let customer service slide with a throw-away society, but these days that just won’t wash. In the 90’s we said we wanted to empower our front line folks. But it’s not just empowerment we need. It’s authority. Customer service representatives need the authority to solve problems. Service workers need the authority to go out of their way to get the right part, or take longer to make an accurate diagnosis, or to suggest that something just isn’t worth fixing, if that’s the case.
At our place, this point was hammered home over the past few months. Since October, we’ve been having dishwasher trouble. We have a service plan with a major retailer, and there have been multiple SNAFUs in getting the machine working, when it stopped cleaning and started depositing dirt on the dishes. Many days off work, several repair appointments (two of which involved the parts department sending along the wrong part), and countless phone calls later, and by mid-January we were still getting up close and personal with our kitchen sink every day. No one on the company’s customer service line had the authority to escalate the problem to the next level.
Finally, we telephoned and emailed the Company President. Guess what happened next? Within 24 hours we received half a dozen apologetic telephone calls, a service man, the right part, and lo and behold, we now have a nicely working dishwasher. So what’s wrong with this picture? We can’t believe it is efficient, effective, or a good use of resources for the President of a nation-wide retail operation to have to be following up on the status of a dishwasher part. The whole fiasco could have been avoided if the links in the customer service chain (the folks at the other end of the phone, and the service staff) were given the authority they deserve: and a roadmap, of what to do resolve the issue.
So if you want to improve your odds of making a sale in today’s buyer-driven market, do yourself a favour. Take a look at your operation, and see whether those people in your organization who are in direct contact with customers have a level of authority that matches their level of responsibility. They’re not responsible for answering the phone. They’re responsible for maintaining a rewarding working relationship with your customer. And their job isn’t to come back as many times as necessary to get the product up-and-running. It’s to provide such diagnosis, maintenance, and repair that lets the buyer be confident enough to never look elsewhere for their next purchase. Taking responsibility is great. But having authority to deliver is even better.
Building better customer-hearing skills, one step at a time…
Megann & Steve