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I Know the Best…Three Steps to Customer Referrals

August 23, 2013

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Gandhi? L. L. Bean? Kenneth B. Elliott? Great Western Fuel Company? Ray Noyes? Paul T. Babson? Anonymous?

There are many companies and individuals cited as having said the quote above and different variations of the quote have been around since 1941. Regardless of who said it, the points in the quote are still critical in business today. If all employees in your organization reminded themselves of the principles in the quote before they started their day, you would be on your way to providing exceptional service that encourages customer loyalty and drives customer referrals.

Customer Satisfaction vs Customer Loyalty

Customer loyalty is different from customer satisfaction because loyal customers are repeat buyers, proactive referral sources and generally more understanding when you make a mistake. Satisfied customers on the other hand, are simply that – satisfied. They may come back, they may or may not give you a good review and they are not as tolerant of mistakes as loyal customers because they are always thinking they can go somewhere else for your product or service. Satisfied customers can easily become dissatisfied and this dissatisfaction costs your organization money. Many times, customers become dissatisfied because they feel like they are interrupting the employee and as stated in the quote above, “He is not an interruption…he is the purpose.”

Customer Service Ratings

So, how can your organization provide exceptional customer service, encourage loyal customers and drive customer referrals? Here are three initial steps.

1. Set Customer Service Standards and make sure EVERY employee in your organization demonstrates these standards EVERY day. Not just sometimes, ALL the time. Customer service standards are a list of actions and skills that your employees should demonstrate at every point of customer contact. They clearly describe the desired customer experience and should be defined by the customers’ expectations.

Here are some examples of how standards should be developed and adhered to.

  • We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so. Can your customers go somewhere else for the same product or service? If so, your organization should have a standard that clearly states that employees take ownership of serving the customer. Phrases like “It is out of my hands…it is not my department…” should be banned from the employee/customer conversation.
  • A customer is the most important visitor on our premises… How can you make the customer feel like he/she is the most important visitor on your premises (or the most important caller of the day?) Set standards around how to greet the customer. Set a standard that requires employees to smile, stand up (or sit up) straight and carry themselves. Develop standards on how the employees should introduce themselves and speak so the customer feels it is welcoming.

Customer service standards are as important as any other policy or procedure your organization sets. In fact, it may be more important because without exceptional customer service, there will be no use for your policies and procedures when customers go elsewhere for your services.


2.       Hire Employees Who Can Demonstrate the Standards

Once your organization has standards in place that help ensure exceptional customer service, create an interviewing and hiring strategy to ensure you can hire people who can demonstrate the customer service standards. Ask questions during the interview process about how the candidate “feels” about customers. Look for indications that they care about people, that they like working with customers, and that they look forward to “serving” customers when they call or visit.

I remember working with a group of employees who needed to improve their customer service levels as they were losing customers to the competition. This particular group handled technical issues and worked on technical projects. Before we started designing the training, we ran focus groups to get their perspective on why they might be losing customers. One of the most shocking statements I ever heard during a focus group was in response to our question, “What would help you do your jobs better?” The majority of the representatives said, “If the phone would stop ringing, we could get all of our tasks done.” I then asked, “Who is calling?” They responded, “The customers.” My initial reaction to this statement was, “If your customers stop calling, then your company won’t need you, will they?”

The majority of this group felt the customers were interruptions to their work and not the purpose of their work. When we spoke to them individually, they openly said they were not “people persons”. We reviewed the questions being asked during the interviewing process and they were all about the tasks, technical experience and background. Not one question was asked about how they felt about people and customers.

During the interviewing process, look for specific examples of the following behaviors to increase the odds that your employees will be able to demonstrate customer service standards:

    • Eye contact and a smile
    • Genuine concern about helping people solve problems
    • Genuine empathy when people are upset
    • Demonstration of full active listening
    • Ability to take responsibility with mistakes


3.       Empower, Train and Coach Employees to the Standards

To provide exceptional customer service, employees need to know they “can” help a customer from beginning to end and they need to know “how”.  Train them to say, “I can help you.” and then train them on the steps to take to provide the help. Eliminate the possibility of the employees feeling like their hands are tied. If there are real obstacles within your organization that prevent the employee from being empowered, get rid of the obstacles.

To ensure continued demonstration of the standards, supervisors should continually coach and provide feedback so employees can replicate positive behaviors and eliminate negative behaviors. When supervisors hear/see behaviors that demonstrate that the employees acted like the customer was “part of the business”, they should immediately and specifically, tell the employee what they observed and thank the employee.

When supervisors hear comments like, “It is not my department” …“I can’t do that for you” They should immediately and specifically let the employee know that these statements are not acceptable and have a discussion with the employee to determine how he/she can change the behavior next time.

By taking the three actions above, organizations can see immediate results in the most important bottom line of any company – loyal customers who keep buying and referring your company to other customers.