How to Win Customer Loyalty

Business 2.0
Brian Caufield
People Problems

The major issues fall into two categories: unfriendliness and incompetence. Some people are just antisocial and should never deal with the public; others simply aren't motivated to do a good job. And even the most outgoing, motivated people need to be trained thoroughly before they serve your Customers.

The Gripe: Employees Are Rude
Hire the right people

Anyone can convince you that he's a "people person" during a 30-minute interview. To find out what prospective sales reps are made of, Mike Faith, CEO at, a popular retailer of telephone headsets, puts everyone through a day of Customer -service tryouts. His ideal candidate is outgoing, organized, patient, and level-headed; if an applicant doesn't have those qualities, Faith will know in a hurry. Only one in 30 makes the cut. As a result, gives the company's sales reps lavish praise, and its revenues have grown from $3 million to $11 million during the past three years.

Make sure employees know what Customers are saying

At big companies like BellSouth ( BLS ), technicians rarely interact with the same Customer twice, so it's easy for them not to feel accountable. BellSouth fixed that problem by calling several of each technician's Customers every month and asking for feedback . It posts the results to an internal website that technicians and their supervisors can check every day. If a Customer complains, the webpage spits out an action plan for improving performance. The result: BellSouth was ranked No. 1 among local telephone service providers for the 10th consecutive year in the ACSI survey.

Set an example

It's hard for employees to dismiss talk about delivering great Customer service if the boss jumps in and rolls up his sleeves. ( AMZN ) CEO Jeff Bezos occasionally picks up a headset to field Customer -service calls. Former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher worked in baggage during the holiday travel season. It's no coincidence that both companies score high marks in Customer service.

The Gripe: Employees Are Clueless
Drill your reps

At FedEx's ( FDX ) call center , new employees get five weeks of training, with all employees getting additional training every four months. Fewer screwups is one of the reasons FedEx gets top marks among package delivery services in the ACSI survey. Invest in training, and don't put inexperienced employees on the front line without close supervision. Big companies, like Target ( TGT ) and Disney ( DIS ), have designed elaborate in-house training programs tailored to their needs. Consider hiring a consultant to create one for your company. Look for a consultant with at least five years of experience and seek references from other companies in your field. Be sure to get a detailed proposal outlining what the trainers can do for you. For most companies, classes in people skills, problem solving, and basic technology are essential. Consistent mastery of your phone system and software alone can go a long way toward reducing Customer -service chaos.

Recover with style

No one's perfect. The real problem is that half the time, a company won't admit that it screwed up, causing the Customer to feel betrayed. Chip Bell, coauthor of Knock Your Socks Off Service Recovery , suggests that employees remember four simple steps to turning annoyed Customers into fans:

  • Apologize – Train employees to apologize sincerely if your company makes a mistake.
  • Empathize – Ask Customers what they need to make the situation right -- often an apology is enough -- but let them know you understand their pain.
  • Fix it quickly – Deal with the problem as soon as possible, and don't get distracted by a Customer's anger. And don't try to distract the Customer with offers of free goods or services that don't address the complaint.
  • Follow up – Write or call to make sure the Customer is now satisfied. This shows that the company really cares.

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