Satisfying customers lowers employee turnover

When employees are well-trained, competent customer service professionals, they are happier on the job

Lisa Pletcher
Guest Columnist

If you subscribe to OnStar in-car communications, you can now receive a monthly report by e-mail on the status of your car engine, transmission system, airbags, brakes and other components.

If you shop at Talbots, a clothing store for professional women, you can go online and reserve items at a nearby store. Then, you can stop by and try them on.

If you shop at Talbots, a clothing store for professional women, you can go online and reserve items at a nearby store. Then, you can stop by and try them on.

Customer service is not merely the department that you go to for returning a purchase. Rather, it is about regularly satisfying or even delighting customers. It’s also anticipating customer needs and creating a belief among customers that your business is willing to go to extra lengths to make them happy.

Why do companies focus on customer service? The most obvious reason is repeat business. Good customer service leads to satisfied customers, which generates customer loyalty. In the 1990s, IBM transformed itself into a customer-driven organization and as a result, revenue increased by 22 percent.

In addition, customer service is the second most common workforce training topic for businesses, and while good service keeps customers happy, it’s also proven to keep employees happy.

A recent federal study found that employee turnover and customer satisfaction are directly related. Stores with high customer service ratings had a 54 percent sales force turnover versus 83 percent in stores with low customer service ratings. Companies that create a good work culture have reduced employee turnover as a result. Cabelas, an outdoor outfitter, is a great example. It offers an extensive loaner program for employees to borrow a product for a month or so, and provide feedback on how the product holds up.

How can you measure your company’s level of service? Consider these metrics.

Customer attrition ratio: Customer service can be quantified by looking at the number of customers lost against the total number of customers for a specific time period (customers leaving/total customers). The higher the ratio the less likely customer service at your business is being delivered consistently.

Sales growth: The reputation of your business precedes you. If people are still buying from you and you are acquiring new customers, chances are that they are happy with the service they have received.

Customer service results: Directly asking customers to rate their satisfaction with the level of service they receive is the best way to measure quality of service. Customer complaints provide feedback and great insight into improving service. These complaints not only represent the person, but also issues affecting others.

To get staff to care about customers, managers have to sell the importance of customer service on a regular basis. That requires a message that drives service into every activity and empowering employees to provide quality service delivery to each customer. Managers must also communicate that customer service is non-negotiable, and communicate this message at every opportunity. It’s no secret that businesses exist to serve customers. The trick is to keep that mindset at the forefront for all employees.

So, where do you start? Create a customer contact plan for maintaining customer relationships. Consider when a customer walks into your place of business, what way do you reach out to him/her? Are they quickly greeted with a smile and offer of assistance? When a customer calls your business, are they treated warmly and offered service? When a customer emails a question to your organization, is the customer given the option to reach you also by phone? Are e-mails or phone calls to your company answered within 24 hours? Does the service department provide a direct phone number as a convenient way for customers to ask follow-up questions?

The customer contact plan should be complemented with training for all staff. Consider strategies for delivering this type of training, such as lunchtime sessions, after work special topics with guest speakers, all day retreats for staff to reflect on what quality customer service will look like at your business. Professional development programs at colleges and universities provide great resources to support this valuable training.

Dr. Lisa Pletcher is the Executive Dean of Workforce Development & Continuing Education at Clark College. Dr. Pletcher actively works with the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and numerous businesses to be responsive to their needs.

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