The Art of Customer Service

Originally published: 1/1/10 by Guy Kawasaki


Ten tips for treating your customers like gold.

1. Start at the top. The owner’s attitude towards customer service is the primary determinant of the quality of service that a company delivers. If the owner thinks that customers are a pain in the ass who always want something for nothing, that attitude will permeate the company, and service will be lousy. So if you are the owner get your act together. If you’re not the owner either convince him to change his mind, quit, or learn to live with mediocrity — in that order.

2. Put the customer in control. The best kind of customer service happens when management enables employees to put the customer in control. This requires two leaps of faith: first, that management trusts customers not to take advantage of the situation; and second, that management trust employees with this empowerment. If you can make these leaps, then the quality of your customer service will zoom; if not, there is nothing more frustrating than companies copping the attitude that something is “against company policy.”

3. Take responsibility for your shortcomings. A company that takes responsibility for its shortcomings is likely to provide great customer service for two reasons: first, it’s acknowledged that

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it’s the company’s fault and the company’s responsibility to fix. Second, customers won’t go through the aggravating process of getting you to accept blame. Think about it this way: If YOUR air conditioner broke down and the service company came out and repaired it and it broke again in two days, would it be YOUR fault? Would you want to argue with the air conditioning company about it — or just have them come out and take care of it with a smile?

4. Don’t point the finger. This is the flip side of taking responsibility. As computer owners we all know that when a program doesn’t work, vendors often resort to finger pointing: “It’s Apple’s system software.” “It’s Microsoft’s ‘special’ way of doing things.” “It’s the way Adobe created PDF.” A great customer service company doesn’t point the finger — it figures out what the solution is regardless of whose fault the problem is and makes the customer happy. As my mother used to say, “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”

5. Don’t finger the pointer. Great customer service companies don’t shoot the messenger. When it comes to customer service, it could be a customer, an employee, a vendor, or a consultant who’s doing the pointing. The goal is not to silence the messenger, but to fix the problem that the messenger brought so that other customers don’t have a bad experience.

6. Don’t be paranoid. One of the most common justifications for anti-service is, “What if we did this for everyone?” For example, if you know it was the customer’s “fault” that his or her furnace was operating inefficiently because he or she hadn’t changed the filter in months, would you argue about it — or just change it, explain to them how often to do it, and move on cheerfully? The point is: Don’t assume that the worst case is going to be the common case. There will be abusers, yes, but generally people are reasonable. If you put policies in place to address the worst cases — the “bad” customers — it will antagonize and insult the bulk of your customers.

7. Hire the right kind of people. To put it mildly, customer service is not a job for everyone. The ideal customer service person derives great satisfaction by helping people and solving problems. This cannot be said of every job candidate. It’s your responsibility to hire the right kind of people for each job because it can be a bad experience for the employee and the customer when you hire folks without a service orientation.

8. Under promise and over deliver. The goal is to delight a customer. For example, the signs in the lines at Disneyland that tell you how long you’ll have to wait from each point are purposely over-stated. When you get to the ride in less time, you’re delighted. Imagine if the signs were understated — you’d be angry because Disneyland lied to you.

9. Integrate customer service into the mainstream. Let’s see: sales makes the big bucks. Marketing does the fun stuff. Engineers, well, you leave them alone in their dark caves. Accounting cuts the paychecks. And support? Does the dirty work of talking to pissed off customers when nothing else works. Herein lies the problem: customer service has as much to do with a company’s reputation as sales, marketing, engineering, and finance. So integrate customer service into the mainstream of the company and do not consider it profit-sucking necessary evil. A customer service hero deserves all the accolades that a sales, marketing, or engineering one does.

10. Put it all together. To put several recommendations in action, suppose a part breaks in the air cleaner that a customer bought from you. First, take responsibility: “I’m sorry that it broke.” Second, don’t point the finger--that is, don’t say, “We buy that part from a supplier.” Third, put the customer in control: “When would you like the replacement by?” Fourth, under promise and over deliver: Send it at no additional charge via a faster shipping method than necessary. That’s the way to create legendary customer service.

Guy Kawasaki is a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Forbes.com. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer Inc., where he was one of the individuals responsible for the success of the Macintosh computer. He is the author of eight books, including his most recent, The Art of the Start, which can be found atwww.guykawasaki.com


Articles by Guy Kawasaki

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