3 Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service and Put Your Customer First

I know most of us respond to excellent customer service with repeat business. Recently I was the recipient of some poor customer service that ended with me never wanting to come back. I know I am not unique in this experience, you likely have had similar ones too.  It involved a retail transaction for garden plants. Here’s the scene: 86 degrees and humid at 1:00 in the afternoon. It’s hot and I have yard work I need to complete, but I need supplies first. I go to the garden center and collect some seeds and flowers to plant and request 10 bags of Cypress Mulch. I placed the seed packets on the counter first and then the plants. I asked for 10 bags of Cypress mulch.  He rang up the items and I paid for the transaction thinking he had everything I intended to purchase. Then the cashier said, ‘Oh I didn’t get these seed packets’. I clearly placed them where items you want to buy go, so i was perplexed, but didn’t mind paying for them in a second transaction. I was a bit frustrated, it’s hot! This was poor experience 1. Then I walk to my car in the back of the parking lot. It’s a busy summer garden day and lots of people were doing exactly what I was so parking was scarce. I get to the car and drive to the side of the garden center to pick up the 10 bags of cypress mulch I requested and paid for. I reach the pickup area and present my receipt. The workers confirm I wanted bark nuggets. I said no, I asked for Cypress Mulch. They look at me and announce I need to go back in to the cashier to fix the transaction. I try to barter, “Are they the same price?” The response is “We don’t know, we don’t handle the money.” Welcome to poor experience 2. I am hot and more frustrated because I am now 10 minutes into wasted time with no effort to help me, the customer! I park the car, walk back in, it’s still hot and humid and all I want is the cypress mulch and to get to work. I walk to the cashier stand where I made my purchase, explained the error I needed fixed. The cashier said I can’t refund the transaction; you need to go to customer service at the main desk. Imagine how I felt after poor experience 3! I need the mulch and I proceed to the customer service desk. I see three employees milling about, but apparently not able to greet me, the customer, waiting at the customer service desk! We are well into poor experience 4 and a manager walks up and asks if I need help. I said yes I need to correct an error. He says he will help. I shared with him that I think the cashier needs some training because of the error. His response to me was ‘I don’t know I wasn’t there.’ This set me over the edge and I asked for a refund. I was amazed at every turn that I was made to feel that I was wrong! What has happened to customer service? We all make mistakes, we are human. That is not the error! Failure to recognize and correct the error without blaming me is the poor experience that needs to stop in organizations. This lack of customer service cost me an additional 30 minutes of my time and left me with a feeling that I won’t shop there again. I have a choice where to shop and I will not be shopping at businesses that can’t offer customer service. 

This experience set my analyst brain thinking about my customer service. How am I providing customer service? Do my customers leave an experience working with me frustrated or dissatisfied? How can I strive to provide customer service focused on providing value to my customers?  I came up with three things to help me focus on making sure this never happens with my customers.

1.Be Present

This simply means that I am invested in the conversations with my stakeholders. I take the time to listen to the words they are speaking and hear what the words mean. I actively engage in the conversation to focus on the meaning of the words rather than formulating how I will respond. I take notes to help me learn what they are sharing and recall what we spoke about. I am not distracted thinking about other assignments or daydreaming about anything else. I am engaged and interested in my stakeholders message. This is something that isn’t easy, especially in on our world full of distractions and so many tasks to complete. This will take practice. Like any skill, we will improve as we practice. Being present will lead to rich conversations and save time having to clarify conversations. In my experience, if the cashier had been present, then I wouldn’t have had to pay for two transactions or been unable to pick up the mulch. He didn’t listen and hear what I ordered.

Something that can help being present is to time-box conversations. Don’t allow yourself to have meetings longer than 30 minutes. Prepare for the discussion to focus on the small amount of information you can’t find anywhere else. There are specific items you need to learn from that particular stakeholder. Focus on only that to create value for yourself, the stakeholder and the organization. This will scope the conversation and improve your success rate of in hearing what is said in one meeting rather than several meetings.

2. Be Accountable

When something doesn’t go as planned, be willing to admit the error and make it right. Personal accountability seems to be a vanishing today. It should not be seen as an old-fashioned practice. Own an error. It may be that the customer isn’t right. However, somewhere the message was confused. What about your policies or process caused the error? Is there something you can change to improve the experience for them? Likely, there is a shared ownership in what went wrong. In my shopping example, the process could change for a visual confirmation of the type of mulch I requested before the purchase is finalized. This simple fix would have allowed the error to be fixed before I finalized the transaction. Customers will appreciate fixing a misunderstanding before it becomes a problem.

In my analysis work, this could be applied when I confirm understanding of a business rule or a process step. Take the time to correct your misunderstanding before requirements are drafted for formal review. In your half hour time box conversation, set aside 5 minutes to confirm what you heard. If needed, visually represent what you understood. This one change will delight your customers to correct this in the moment rather than days or weeks later. When you don’t have something correct, either because you misheard or your stakeholder misspoke, own that it is wrong and move on.  The manager in my story missed an opportunity to own a mistake and instead claimed ignorance as to what happened. There was a mistake in the conversation and I left feeling like I was to blame for the cashier’s error.

3. Make it Right

When you have something go wrong, do everything you can to make it right in the moment it is wrong. In my story, the workers that were loading mulch were not empowered to substitute items for similar prices or make any changes at all. The cashiers at the garden center were not either. These were two moments where they would have retained the sale had they been able to make the mistake right. Organizations need to consider the risk of empowering decisions at lower levels with the risk of customers walking away because of the time it takes to make something right. It’s important that we focus on how to delight our customers at the moments we need to.  The best experience is the happy path in a transaction.  

This happy path is both an in person interaction and a mobile virtual one. This is why analysts must consider the error handling for any transaction. How can you fix the problem in the moment? In person, how can you train and empower people to fix the errors? Virtually, what is the error handling process? Make sure customers can see what is wrong that they need to fix to complete the transaction. I bet we have all abandoned an on-line transaction because we are unable to make the transaction right. The systems fail us as much as a person can fail us. These are experiences that can cause our customers to walk away in frustration. I find use case thinking the best way to ensure that we don’t miss chances for the system to make things right when something doesn’t go as planned.

Remembering to be present, be accountable and to make things right will change your customer focus. It will enable our customers to see the value good business analysis brings. When you are invested in customer service you will be invested in the organization and in demand. Stakeholders will not want to solve problems without you! Always remember to focus on your customer to ensure they are delighted!

Heather, a BA Without Borders

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