by Liz Jazwiec, author of “Service Excellence is as Easy as PIE: Perception Is Everything“
Whatever your industry, you know it’s more important than ever to provide excellent service. Competition is fierce, and in this economy, you can’t afford to lose a single customer. But precisely BECAUSE money is so tight, you can’t shower every customer with rose petals and champagne.
Relax. Here’s some welcome news: Often, changing just a few little things can have a huge impact on customer perception.
Actually, you’re probably doing a lot of things right already — you just need to highlight them to your customers, who may not be aware of the excellent services you’re providing. In other words, you need to focus on your customers’ perception. Change a few little things and you can hugely impact how customers view their experience.
So, why do so many leaders work themselves silly trying to drive outcomes? The problem is, there are several well-entrenched myths about improving satisfaction — and they make this task much more difficult than it has to be.
Here are six common myths that might be keeping your organization from receiving the stellar customer satisfaction scores it deserves:
Myth Number One: “Only crabby people fill out surveys.”
You may think surveys are ineffective because customers go to the trouble of filling them out only when they have a bone to pick, right? Wrong! If you look at your (or any) organization’s data, you’ll probably find that the majority of respondents were satisfied. Usually, less than 10 percent rank organizations poorly.
Don’t focus your attention on that bottom 5 or 10 percent who rated your organization poorly. I call these crabby people 10 percenters, and while some do have legitimate concerns, many others just don’t want to change their opinions. They’re determined to be dissatisfied. You’ll be much more effective if you focus on increasing the satisfaction of customers who rated your organization ‘fair’ and ‘good.’ They want you to improve their perception and would probably love to rate you ‘very good’ on the next survey!
Myth Number Two: “The data supports our current strategy, so we shouldn’t change.”
In my new book I tell the story of a hospital that was struggling to improve its ratings on the question “How often is your hospital quiet at night?” After compiling numerous decibel readings, all of which supported the fact that noise levels at night were relatively low, the hospital concluded that it couldn’t make any changes because it was doing everything “right.” Its patients were simply wrong, or unreasonable, or both!
I advised this hospital to lower its lights earlier in the evening, around 8 p.m. instead of toward midnight. And lo and behold, three months later, the patients’ perception was that the unit was quieter. Did it make scientific sense? No. Did it work? YES! My point is, counterintuitive as it may seem, the data can sometimes lead you astray. Your focus on being ‘right’ can keep you from considering what the customer really needs. And usually, as was the case in this instance, the key to improving perception is really simple.
Myth Number Three: “Asking the customer how we can help only makes more work for us.”
Regardless of industry, one of the phrases employees hate most is “Is there anything else I can do for you?” After all, they’re busy. Overwhelmed, even. They don’t have time to cater to customers’ idle whims!
I’m here to tell you that when you ask people this question, they don’t make up frivolous stuff! They ask you for the same thing they’re going to ask you for anyway, except when you’re already tied up with another customer, busy on a phone call, or assisting a coworker. Proactively asking people what they need doesn’t make you busier; it just ensures you receive requests when you do have time to handle them! Plus, if 10 people a shift ask a customer, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ and the customer has a request only two of those times, that means eight times a shift the customer is answering, ‘No, I’m good. Everything is fine.’ Do you think that makes a difference in perception? YES!
Myth Number Four: “Telling people how long things will take is a bad idea.”
In most industries, customers don’t always receive instant gratification. They have to wait in the lobby before seeing their financial advisers. It can take days or even weeks to receive results from medical tests. Closing on a new home often takes longer than buyers would like. This “waity” list goes on. Meanwhile, we — the people who are serving these customers — resist giving people an estimate of how long things will take.
It’s like we think people won’t notice how much time is passing if we don’t give them a number. Well, they do… and they also form their own (often inaccurate!) expectations if we don’t provide a guideline! So tell the truth with a cushion. For instance, if you think something will take 30 minutes, tell the customer it’ll take 45. Organizations that excel in customer satisfaction have learned how to set expectations they know they can exceed. It’s not that they have reduced wait times; it’s not that they’re perfect; and they definitely haven’t eradicated annoyances. They’ve simply learned to manage people’s expectations.
Myth Number Five: “You should never call attention to inconvenience.”
When something is broken, inconvenient, or unpleasant, we naturally resist calling customers’ attention to it. But face it: Customers are going to notice anyway — and they won’t be happy! They may even think you don’t care about their experience at all if you seem to be ignoring the bad stuff. However, when you’re open about the inconvenience and say, “We know this stinks,” people become more understanding. Their perception of how much your organization cares goes up.
I learned this lesson during my many travels through Chicago’s Midway Airport, where there’s a gate that all frequent flyers dread. The hallway leading to it is longer than two city blocks with no stores, restaurants, or kiosks—and the floor is thick carpet that makes you feel like you’re dragging your suitcase through quicksand. Well, there used to be a sign at the entrance to this gate that read, ‘Gate A4a, aka Timbuktu, Never-Never Land, and the Kingdom of Far, Far Away.’ The sign didn’t make the gate any closer, but it let travelers know that our slog through quicksand wasn’t going unnoticed. And somehow, it made things better.
Myth Number Six: “‘Wow!’ service happens only once in a blue moon.”
It’s not that you believe making customers say, “Wow!” is impossible… you just assume it will take an exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary effort on your part to elicit that kind of response. So most days, you aim for “adequate” instead of “amazing.” But “wow” service isn’t thrilling, marvelous, sensational, or big. It is PERSONAL! And personal does not have to be made of big, showy stuff. It’s easy to incorporate into your organization’s everyday processes.
At one hotel chain, the bellman looks at your luggage tag as he takes your suitcase out of the car. Then he uses his earpiece walkie-talkie to tell the front desk clerk your name. So when you approach the desk, the host greets you with a ‘Welcome, Liz, we’ve been expecting you.’ It’s ‘just’ a simple personal touch, but for me that inspires a ‘wow’ reaction. So remember: When you get personal, you’ll improve your perception.
Before you buy into a common assumption about what it takes to achieve customer satisfaction, take a few moments to consider how you’d feel if you were in your customers’ shoes. In most cases, you’ll probably find that improving perceptions won’t require you to move heaven and earth, though it might require some outside-the-box thinking and a willingness to engage with your customers on a personal level.
The best news is, once you do ditch the myths and learn how simple it can be to boost customer satisfaction, you’ll find that you and your employees are more energized and motivated. Making customers happy will make you happy, too!
Liz Jazwiec is author of “Service Excellence is as Easy as PIE: Perception Is Everything“, “Hey Cupcake! We Are ALL Leaders“, and “Eat THAT Cookie!: Make Workplace Positivity Pay Off…For Individuals, Teams, and Organizations“. She is a nationally renowned speaker, strategist, and consultant who has shared her passion for leadership, engagement, and service with audiences across the country.