Earlier this week I participated, as a speaker panelist, in a joint meeting of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) and the Greater Midwest Chapter of PCMA. (Professional Convention Management Association) The program, entitled “Future Trends and Forecasting in Hospitality” took place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, WI.
Unlike most trips, I traveled by car on this one. John Folks, the moderator of the session, was kind enough to invite me to carpool with him. John is the CEO and owner of an Event Management and Marketing firm called “Minding Your Business.” John is also the current Chairman of the Professional Convention Management Association. (PCMA) A savvy business person John has been a mentor to me over the years in my leadership development within PCMA.
During our drive John and I chatted about many things but the one topic that resonated with me most was customer service. John and I both believe the currently tough economy has created an opportunity for businesses to experiment with new ideas and create new “cutting edge” customer service “best practices.”
The events of the past 18 months have altered the complexion of business. We now work in a highly competitive environment, facing challenges and pressures like none experienced in our entire careers. With shrinking revenues, staff reductions and budget cuts, business people are expected to do more with less and find new solutions to sustain/grow their business.
On a high level, our problems as a business community are all pretty much the same, but drilling down into specific business sectors and demographics, the dynamics and contributing factors are varied. So where does the solution lie…. what is the formula for success? I believe, as John does, the answer is customized customer service experiences. So what does that mean exactly?
Here are my thoughts —
- #1 — Understand your customer’s unique set of needs
- How do they prefer to communicate — Telephone, text messaging, email or social media
- What are their challenges — what’s keeping them awake at night?
- What are their strengths & weaknesses? — acknowledge their strengths and offer assistance in the areas they lack knowledge, experience or skill.
- What are their bandwidth issues — where are they short of resources?
- What are their personal interests? — this intelligence will offer great insight into their personality and also assist you in finding areas of common interest.
- #2 — Invest the time and energy to understand their organization
- Do the research — understand their business … their products, services and customers
- Meet their peers and leadership — Learn the culture
- #3 — Develop a service strategy that aligns with these components
- Ask for their input — What are they looking for? Engage them as part of the service solution.
- Offer innovative focused solutions — Tailor your recommendations to their perceived needs.
- Exceed their expectations — Deliver exceptional value, more than they asked for.
- Add the extra touches — Little things make a large difference
- #4 — Communicate with them frequently, openly and sincerely.
- Consistency is quality
- Transparency breeds trust
- Sincerity leads to loyalty
Historically, technology and innovation have been crucial components to recovery from past recessions. This time will be no different. With the emergence of social media in the business world, organizations now have more options at their fingertips, than ever before, to bond with their customers. Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or blogs are examples of new communication channels to help build and sustain relationships.
Customers want a voice, they want to contribute to the development of the products and services they will consume. We must build collaborative partnerships with them. Think “outside the box,” try new ideas, without fear of failure, and take on calculated risk. Its ok to fail, as failure brings learning, and learning brings success!
Deep meaningful relationships are the glue that holds business together. More than ever we must work diligently to protect and grow them!
Question: Do you have a customer service success story you’d like to share. I am sure there are a few people out there, myself included that could learn from it. I look forward to your comments. Let the discussions begin!