Friday, March 14, 2014

9 Skills for the Four Levels of Customer Service

In the modular home factory the term Customer Service takes on a different meaning for each management and sales position but it all falls into the interpersonal relationship bucket.

Each employee of the company is involved in customer service. Some only interact with others in the factory and many only work with the builder and the new home owner. For lack of a better term, I’ll call each relationship Customer Service. I've divided the factory into 4 levels of Customer Service.

In this first level, it’s management (“customer”) that needs the service. Owners that ignore servicing these management customers will isolate themselves and the company will fail. The owners of a modular factory will never see their company survive and thrive without working with the management team they have put together. 

The second level of Customer Service finds all non-management employees as the “customer” wanting to vent and ask for help. Sales Managers need to service the needs of their sales reps. Supervisor have to service their production line customers and the Engineering supervisor needs to be continually servicing their CAD and design people.

The third level is the one, and sometimes the only one, that owners and management even think about when they hear Customer Service. This is the one between the sales rep and the builder. As important as this is, it is only one cog in the wheel that makes the factory work smoothly.

The fourth level of factory customer service just might be the most important and that is the relationship between the Service Manager and the builder. Being the bridge between a happy builder and one that will never buy from the factory again, the Service Manager is the real key to continuing sales. Lose the builder’s confidence in factory service and they will buy from someone else.

But identifying the four levels of customer service is only the beginning. There are universal skills everyone in the four levels must possess. Below are 9 of the most needed skills that matter to keep the factory chugging along.

1. Patience
If you don't see this near the top of a customer service skills list, you should just stop reading. Not only is patience important to customers, who often reach out for support when they are confused and frustrated, but it's also important to factory as a whole.
Everyone in the modular home business works with “customers” on a daily basis Be sure to stay patient when they come to you stumped and frustrated, but also be sure to take the time to truly figure out what they want — they'd rather get competent service than be rushed out the door!

2. Attentiveness
The ability to really listen to customers is so crucial for providing great service for a number of reasons. Stop, Look and LISTEN is more than a sign at the railroad crossing.

3. Clear Communication Skills
It's okay to find out more about your customers, but make sure you're getting to the problem at hand quickly; customers don't need your life story or to hear about how your day is going.
More importantly, you need to be cautious about how some of your communication habits translate to customers, and it's best to err on the side of caution whenever you find yourself questioning a situation.

4. Knowledge of the Product
This is something that should be worked on every day. Each level of customer service needs to know what is being sold at the factory. Updates, improvements and new options happen just about every day. New procedures have to addressed constantly. When one of your factory “customers” needs some service, not knowing the product is a killer.

5. Ability to Use "Positive Language"
Sounds like fluffy nonsense, but your ability to make minor changes in your conversational patterns can truly go a long way in creating happy customers.
Language is a very important part of persuasion, and people create perceptions about you and the factory based off of the language that you use.

6. Acting Skills
Let's get real honest here... sometimes you're going to come across people that you'll never be able to make happy.
Situations outside of your control (they had a terrible day, or they are just a natural-born complainer) will sometimes creep into your usual support routine, and you'll be greeted with those "barnacle" customers that seem to want nothing else but to pull you down.
You must have those basic acting skills necessary to maintain your usual cheery persona in spite of dealing with people who may be just plain grumpy.

7. Time Management Skills
Hey, despite the best research-backed rants on why you should spend more time with customers, the bottom line is that there is a limit, and you need to be concerned with getting customers what they want in an efficient manner.
The trick here is that this should also be applied when realizing when you simply cannot help someone. Don't waste time trying to go above and beyond for a customer in an area where you will just end up wasting both of your time! Find someone that can ease their pain.

8. Ability to Handle Surprises
Sometimes the customer is going to throw you a curveball!
Maybe the problem you encounter isn't specifically covered in the company's guidelines, or maybe the customer isn't reacting how you thought they would. Whatever the case, it's best to be able to think on your feet... but it's even better to create guidelines for yourself in these sorts of situations.

9. Closing Ability
Being able to close with a customer means being able to end the conversation with confirmed satisfaction (or as close to it as you can achieve) and with the customer feeling that everything has been taken care of (or will be).
Getting booted after a customer service call or before all of their problems have been addressed is the last thing that customers want, so be sure to take the time to confirm with customers that each and every issue they had on deck has been entirely resolved.
Your willingness to do this shows the customer 3 very important things:
  • That you care about getting it right
  • That you're willing to keep going until you get it right
  • That the customer is the one who determines what "right" is.

When you get a customer to, "Yes, I'm all set!" is when you know the conversation is over!


Anonymous said...

I work in the office of one the largest modular home factories in PA and I see first hand what the failure of level one and level four of your story does to a morale. Even though I have worked here for 8 years, I hate this place. The owner walks around and only talks to a couple of people and ignores the rest of us. I get so tired of dealing with angry builders that have either had no repairs done on their houses or haven't been reimbursed for labor and repairs.

Coach, this story should be required reading for everyone.

Micel Philips said...

Thanks for sharing .Keep posting articles like this. A good example of content presentation. A piece of information from you every now and then is really great.

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