Fast Company´s October issue presents its "Customers First Awards" to a variety of companies including Netflix, Panera Bread, Talbots, Cabela´s, W Hotels, Intuit, and others. None of them fall into the category of small businesses, but all of them provide lessons from which you can learn.
Based on my reading of the article, here are my suggestions you can use:1. The owner/CEO must create a "company wide” focus on customer service and see that it is shared by every employee. Customer service must become part of your company´s culture. Don´t think "lip service," think of it permeating from the DNA level through every level of your organization.
2. Be prepared to pay for resources to support your commitment. You may not be able to spend millions on software like Netflix, but you should do whatever it takes to provide for the development of a customer service culture, the training that must support it, feedback mechanism from your customers and employees and yes, any software you can use to enhance your ability to exceed your customer´s needs.
3. You, the owner/president must be involved in obtaining feedback from customers and employees. Cabela´s has a program called "Item Notes" which collects feedback from employees and customers. In fact employees are encouraged to borrow Cabela´s merchandize, try it for 30 days, then report back on their experiences. Jim Cabela, the co-founder and vice-chair reads every customer e-mail and a script of every phone call made to their call center. Then he routes the information to individual departments to be resolved. Maxine Clark, CEO of Build-A-Bear uses a Blackberry to stay abreast of e-mails from customers, many of whom she recruits to provide feedback.
4. Be innovative. Netflix developed its own software to expedite shipping and customer service processes. Talbots, a clothier for professional women, created the idea of allowing women to go to their Web site, view clothes, then reserve them to be tried on at the nearest store. During its first four months, reservations at stores jumped 75%.
5. Practice active listening. W Hotels teaches its staff to eavesdrop. If an employee overhears a guest complaining of a sore throat, that guest may receive a cup of chicken soup sent to his or her room. Nearly every company mentioned in this article values feedback from its employees.
More next time"?¦
"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."
–Bill Gates, Business @ The Speed of Thought"