The Customer May Not Always be Right... But the Customer is ALWAYS The Customer
Providing customer service can be a challenging job. The old adage: "The customer is always right," might cause a service provider to feel 'powerless' at times when attempting to meet customer expectations. Not all customers, however, are 'difficult;' they are merely attempting to satisfy a need for a product or service.
According to Frederick F. Reichheld in his book The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value, the cost of acquiring new customers is five times the cost of servicing established ones. In addition to that, according to the Technical Assistance Research Programs (TARP) from the White House Office of Consumer Affairs in Washington, DC, ninety percent of dissatisfied customers never return but tell at least nine other people about the bad customer service experience.
As a professional in the field of performance improvement my expectations for service excellence are high. For example, I expect service professionals to exhibit a 'spirit of service' along with a 'can-do' attitude as well as basic product knowledge and communications skills.
In my customer service program, I tell participants that "Customer Service is defined by the provider; however, customer satisfaction is defined by the customer." It is the customer who decides whether or not their expections of service are met... not the provider.
A Rainy, Foggy Night
Recently I had an experience of customer service that reaffirmed this for me. On a rainy, foggy night I was driving home at about nine-thirty when the 'oil' indicator light flashed 'on' and I knew the oil level needed to be checked right away.
Since the weather was awful, I thought I could stop at the local service station where I had been purchasing gas. The attendant always appeared very friendly and helpful so I thought surely, it would be no problem for him to check the oil in my car and add more if needed.
Upon driving into the station, I was happy to see him. As he approached my vehicle I asked, "Would you please check my oil for me?" Imagine my surprise when he abruptly responded, "No, I won't check your oil!"
Rather than engaging in an argument with him my reaction was just as was described in the TARP study. I immediately left and drove a short distance to another station where the attendant was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. He checked the oil, which was low, added more and resolved the issue in under ten minutes.
A Small Investment in Time
Upon reflection of the experience I realized I patronized the first station not only because of the convenience or the prices, but because I felt good about the way I was treated and felt a sense of 'loyalty' to the local business. My expection that evening was that the attendant would check the oil and add more; (which, by the way, is a part of the job description of a service station attendant). This was not an unreasonable request, nor was I rude or demanding.
My immediate reaction was to leave and go elsewhere. However, in that moment I made a resolve to never go back again. In addition to that, by the next morning I told five more people about the incident. It took the attendant at the second service station no longer than ten minutes to grant my request... a small investment in time which will now secure my patronage.
The Cost of Retaining a Customer
It doesn't matter what kind of business you are in... whether you're an officer in a multi-million-dollar corporation, a service professional i.e., doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc., or the owner of a local 'mom and pop' convenience store; this is an important point and one must ask the question: "How many customers or clients am I losing every day because of customer dissatisfaction?" As mentioned above, the cost of acquiring new customers is five times the cost of servicing established ones. Customer loyalty is based upon the customer experience and the relationship of the customer with the service provider.
Happy, Satisfied Customers
Yes... a customer service job may be challenging at times. It's important, however, to remember... while the customer may not 'always' be 'right,' the customer is ALWAYS the customer. It's our job as a professional service provider to provide the type of service that makes them want to return and continue to bring us their business. If you do that the chances are you will have a clientele based on happy, satisfied customers who, not only will keep coming back, but will also be happy to refer your business to their family, friends and associates, thereby helping contribute to the success of your business.