Published - August 1996

"AROUND OUR FIFTY STATES"
By Dave Jakielo

EXCEPTIONAL CLIENT SERVICE - "WHAT SEPERATES THE BEST FROM THE REST"

If we were to make a list of our client’s wants and needs, we would find client services in fourth place right after -- 1) CASH, 2) CASH, 3) CASH. The interaction that your clients’ have with you and your staff is vitally important to the success of your firm. Any interaction with your client can portray a positive or negative image that translates into your firms’ competence. The professionalism or lack of it in your company has an enormous impact on what your clients’ think of you and your organization.

Remember -- Clients aren’t just the most important part of the business they are the business.

Listed below are some of the areas that directly reflect on your "client service professionalism." You must continually examine how your company is handling these various areas:

  • Monthly or special reports given to your clients.
  • You and your management teams accessibility via the phone.
  • Speed in returning phone messages.
  • Attitude and voice quality of people answering your phones.
  • Meeting deadlines.
  • Keeping and arriving on time for appointments.
  • Being totally open and honest.

    When some of the above issues are taken for granted or ignored, it opens the door to client dissatisfaction. This also opens the door to competition. You know from your experience that it’s hard to get an appointment, or even a few minutes, with your competitions happy clients. However, when they are unhappy it's come on in and chat.

    Let’s further examine some of the above issues:

    REPORTS - Ask yourself the following questions. Do the reports you present to your clients look professional? I have seen client’s receive reports that have been photo copied so many times that they are not legible. Laser and color ink jet printers are very affordable. Buy one and use it for all correspondence going to your clients. Are the reports accurate? I have seen reports given to clients where the columns do not add correctly or have had penciled in changes. This is a big NO..NO. It’s better to deliver a report late than present one that has been hand corrected or does not have correct statistics.

    PHONE - How many people does a client have to go through to get to you or your customer service representatives? Here’s an example of one company I know, to get to the owner you need to go through 4 people. The receptionist, a secretary, administrative assistant, assistant manager then the owner. You may laugh, but if a client does not have a direct line to you that rings right on your desk you may have a problem. NEVER have any one in your office tell a client you are in a meeting, unless it’s a meeting with another client. Have your staff inform the caller that you are with another client and will get back to as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to give an approximate time that you will call back. If you are in a staff meeting allow yourself to be interrupted and take the client call.

    MESSAGES - It’s impossible to always be accessible to your clients, but what is your company's goal relating to returning messages? Do you even have a written policy and does every employee know the policy? I recommend 15 minutes, 30 minutes maximum in returning all client calls. If you are on vacation, designate your second in command to handle client issues. You may say this goal is too aggressive, but today with beepers, cellular and wireless phones your always accessible. Try this policy, get back to your client immediately they will be impressed and appreciative.

    PHONE VOICES - Why do we let people answer our phones without any training? Sometimes when I call a business, someone answers, and based on their tone and use of the English language, I wonder if they got past the third grade. Another pet peeve is they answer the phone and say "please hold" and before waiting for a response they put you on hold. I always want to ask them "What am I supposed to hold." At the very least wait for the calling party's response to see if they can hold. You need a policy on how long someone remains on hold and make sure your employees know your expectations. If your staff is consistently putting people on hold examine the number of people you have answering the phones.

    DEADLINES - How many times have you waited until the last minute to tell your client that a report they have been waiting for the past two weeks will be late because something came up? This makes anyone very angry. The solution is to warn them well in advance, if you know that you are going to miss a deadline. Call at least 2 to 3 days before the deadline and apologize. State why it will be late (facts only here - no fiction) and ask them when they need it by so you can reshift your workload to get it to them.

    APPOINTMENTS - Are you constantly running late? Can people regularly show up 15 minutes late because your always 20 to 30 minutes late? If you answered yes to either of the above, I have just three words. STOP IT NOW. Always being late does not reflect that you are so important or busy it shows your unorganized or rude. Your client thinks that you take them for granted. They know you wouldn’t be late for a meeting with a new prospect. Some people try to justify their tardiness because the client sometimes keeps them waiting. SO WHAT the client is paying your bills.

    HONESTY - Never try to hide an issue from your client. If a client feels you are hiding something you will lose their trust. Your credibility will be hurt. They may never trust you again. Isn’t it always the case that if you catch someone in a lie you're suspicious of what they tell you for a long time. You may forget millions of other things but you will go to your grave remembering that they weren’t completely honest with you.

    As we review the above items and issues we say to ourselves "I know all that, it’s basic stuff." The question is, "Are we doing the basics?" Are we, or is someone in our company inspecting what we are expecting? Normally, we ignore our customer services areas and only review policy, procedures or the people when we receive a complaint. Exceptional companies review their service department on a regular basis. They are proactive in trying to improve service before it becomes a problem.

    Lastly, I would like to list some early warning signs that can indicate that you may be facing a customer service problem:

    1. After years of always paying your monthly invoice on time the client falls 60 or 90 days behind. This is a non confrontational way of showing dissatisfaction.
    2. The client changes your meeting patterns from monthly or quarterly and states, "I do not need to see you." This way when you receive a cancellation notice they state as one of the reason why is that "You never see me anymore."
    3. They stop bringing up issues or problems when they do meet with you. If they aren’t telling you their problem's rest assured they are telling your competitor.
    4. You cannot get a hold of them on the phone as you were able to do in the past. They are afraid that you know they are shopping around for a new service and are not ready to discuss the issue just yet.

    Many times we get too busy and we ignore our customer service areas. We need to break the pattern of only paying attention to these areas when a problem is reported. When someone calls a problem to your attention it is usually when they have experienced the problem for quite some time and are at the end of their rope (and thinking of changing companies). Take time to write and distribute policies. Train your phone personnel or have an outside resource train them. Spend some time observing and listening how your phones are answered. By being proactive you are investing in a future of continued growth and success.

    Remember this monthly feature will address topics of interest to you. Please send your ideas on topics you would like addressed, forward interesting articles and send your questions to: Dave Jakielo, Seminars and Consulting, 86 Hall Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15205. Phone and Fax numbers are 412-921-0976. Email dave@davidjakielo.com. I wish you continued success. Hope to hear from you soon.


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