Shoehorned Into Customer Service Excellence 

June2020-YesWereOpen

Tip: scroll to the end of this article to watch Laurie’s brief overview video!

There’s no doubt that the pandemic forced us to adjust how we did business for a time, for everyone’s health and safety. In many instances,  businesses were forced to make their services fit into new regulations, which shoehorned both staff and customers into change. This meant sometimes customers had to compromise their expectations on service, convenience and timeliness. These adjustments also revealed opportunities to evolve how business is done in ways we probably should’ve been doing a long time ago.  

 As the world re-emerges in the second half of 2021, it’s time to move on from those pandemic-era adjustments and put the customer first again. Really, we mean it this time! Many changes over the last year will (and should) go away as business returns to a familiar state, much like sliding into an old pair of slippers. But, I bet there are several changes you could consider keeping or implementing in order to really, truly put the customer’s experience first going forward, like:

  • Offering Fresh Options for Customer Convenience 
  • Respecting Customer Schedules and Timing 
  • Minimizing Customer Risk with Adaptive Policies  

 Offer Fresh Options for Your Customer’s Convenience 

Even if your business was shoehorned into changes you didn’t anticipate having to make, chances are some of them offer your customers a new type of convenience they’ve now become accustomed to. For example, hotels which once served a hot buffet breakfast were forced to substitute bagged or covered pre-plated breakfasts during the pandemic. For someone like me who prefers to grab breakfast then head back to my room to get ready, this change was actually appreciated as it was much faster to obtain and easier to carry. Post-pandemic, bring the buffet back for guests who enjoy dining that way, but keep the pre-plated option and keep other guests (like me!) happy, too.    

Another example includes the curbside pick-up service many businesses began offering during the pandemic, like libraries that allowed parents with rambunctious toddlers in the car to simply pull up, snag that week’s storybooks and head off again, no muss or fuss getting kids in and out of car seats or keeping them quiet inside. Maybe libraries don’t have the resources to continue this service long term, but could we get creative about how to carry it over into the post-pandemic world somehow? Maybe they offer a handful of slots per day in a certain window of time when there’s staff on hand to implement it.  

Just because pandemic regulations are relaxing doesn’t mean we can’t keep in place some of the convenient options customers have come to love.  

Respect Your Customer’s Schedules 

Pre-pandemic, Apple Genius Bar appointments at the Apple store could be scheduled in advance, but most other tech-help store fronts didn’t seem to do that. Earlier this year, at the height of pandemic protocols, my daughter and I safely booked an in-person support appointment at Verizon where we had the agent’s undivided attention with no waiting. That’s not at all how they provided service in previous years. Respect your customers’ busy schedules by giving them the opportunity to schedule their service calls rather than waiting in line, and then offer focused, direct attention instead of serving multiple customers at the same time. It might mean seeing fewer customers in a day, but each customer’s experience is likely to be exceptional and the ROI on that may in fact prove greater than headcounts.  

Bonus tip: what virtual customer service tools did you implement during the pandemic that can stick around going forward? Telehealth visits for minor aches and pains? Video chat tech support for the broken printer? Self-service customer tutorials, resources or troubleshooting? I even know of a wine shop that changed to virtual tastings! They shipped out wine and cheese boxes in advance and then held classes online. Brilliant! I hope they continue that long after the in-person tastings have resumed.  

Minimize  Customer Risk with Adaptive Policies 

I don’t mind sharing one big business change I’ve made as my calendar books up with in-person events in the coming months. I call it the “No Risk Clause” and it’s simple: since event plans are often still up in the air right now, I’m allowing potential clients to lock in time on my calendar with permission to cancel for any reason without financial risk up to 30 days before the event. Not only is this extremely uncommon in my field, setting me apart from others, it means I have removed all the buying hesitation that comes with planning events these days. Is it ideal for me to have a calendar written in pencil instead of pen? Not really, but it’s more important that my customers (like you!) know they have flexibility while our circumstances continue to evolve.  Several times, a client has indicated my no-risk clause was the tipping factor in trying to choose between me and another speaking professional. 

I may not keep this policy around forever, but I might if the feedback from my clients continues to be so positive. By being adaptable and responsive in real-time, customers really understand that they come first, as they should! 

How can you spot post-pandemic opportunities in your own business to serve the customer in elevated ways? Ask yourself three simple questions: 

  • What are customers asking for (or wishing for) on a routine basis that we can try to implement?
  • What changes were we forced to make last year that were actually fortuitous and should remain in place?
  • Can we use this moment to introduce a new rule or process is that is long overdue? 

 Now is the perfect time to reset your service levels, and by using those changes we were all shoehorned into over the last year to actually, really, truly put the customer first (again), we can prove to them we really mean it this time!It is the best way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Let’s get to back work.

An entrepreneur, keynote speaker and author, Laurie Guest, CSP is a “go-to-resource” for customer service excellence. For more than two decades, she has shared her practical point of view on customer service and staff development with audiences and companies across the country, blending real-life examples and proven action steps for improvement. Her latest book, The 10¢ Decision: How Small Change Pays of Big, presents her most sought-after and impactful strategies to find and retain the best staff and highest-quality customers while delivering exceptional guest experiences.

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