The Fulfillment Doctor Pays a House Call to….Exemplary Customer Service

Question: Most companies strive for good customer service, but that doesn’t seem to be enough any more. Customers seem to expect more, better, faster service. How do we put the wow factor back in service?

Answer: This was one of the subjects at a recent F. Curtis Barry & Co. Contact Center ShareGroup, held at the Kearney, NE, contact center of outdoor gear cataloger/retailer Cabela’s. Most of the 25 attendees agreed that customers expect more and that providing better service should be an objective for many companies.

Here is the best thinking of the group on how to improve service and impress your customers:

  1. Keep out-of-stocks and backorders to a minimum. Management must develop a strategic approach to inventory management across channels.The strategy to achieve this must include such factors as interdepartmental disciplines of marketing planning, preseason merchandise planning, and continual forecasting once a promotion is live; changes in the buying and inventory management organization; getting the right specialized systems in place for each channel to plan and forecast; changes in vendor relationships; and cost-effective methods of liquidation.
  2. If your company makes a mistake, offer an immediate apology and fix the problem. Make it right immediately. Within realistic limits, give your customer service reps the power to do this on your behalf.
  3. Respect and honor thy customer, or thy days as a business are numbered. This should be one of the Ten Commandments of your business.One attendee said that his company taught employees that if they wouldn’t say something to the customer directly, they shouldn’t say it internally (and infect the minds of the others).That said, you can and should put some controls on the very few abusive customers you may have.
  4. Good/great customer service doesn’t mean that you have to give away financial incentives to keep them happy. Empower the customer service personnel. Some companies have evaluated what CSRs can give and within what dollar limits. One attendee said that in the first year of this sort of empowerment program, his company was reevaluating the financial incentives to make sure that the reps weren’t giving too much. But overall the company was very pleased with the spirit of the CSRs taking care of the customers.
  5. Tell the truth. There is nothing to add.
  6. Shop your customer service across the total enterprise. One attendee from a business-to-business company gave a presentation of how it conducted a “mystery shopper” program. It evaluated 40 points of customer service across the contact center, fulfillment, returns/credits, and refunds processing and gave an objective written appraisal for each shopping and return experience. This included shipments from facilities in both the East and West as well as a Korean customer shopping line. While this may sound excessive, have you considered how many departments in some way touch the customer?
  7. Adopt the guarantees of industry leaders such as Cabela’s, L.L. Bean, and Lands’ End There are those legendary stories about L.L. Bean taking back 10-year-old sleeping bags with a smile. Total satisfaction guaranteed. This is where you can have a significant edge over competitors that don’t understand how important customer service is. Once a company’s reputation for customer service is damaged, it’s tough to turn around.

    Curt Barry is president of Richmond, VA-based operations consultancy F. Curtis Barry & Co.

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