Customer Interaction Culture Key to Profitability

Exceptional customer service is
key to building customer loyalty and, thus, ensuring long-term profitability.

Loyalty shapes people’s choices on what they purchase, how they purchase and where they purchase. In a study conducted by the Forum Corp. on why customers changed brands, more than 60 percent switched because of poor service and lack of personal attention. When customers rank the importance of factors for creating a “good customer experience,” advertising and promotion ranked only 2.8 on a 7-point scale. In contrast, “actions taken in response to a problem or request” ranked 6.33 and “the company’s employee who served the person” ranked 6.24. These statistics indicate the importance of resolving the customer’s request in an efficient, effective and pleasant manner. The goal is to create positive interactions and treat customers with respect, honesty and integrity.

Another study by Tom Peters on the impact of customer dissatisfaction found the average person having a negative experience tells nine to 10 people, and 13 percent of people will spread the bad word to 20 or more people. Data also show that a company can retain 82 percent to 95 percent of dissatisfied customers if it can resolve complaints in a timely and thoughtful fashion. The goal, of course, is not to lose the customer in the first place. It costs five times more to acquire new customers than it does to maintain existing customers, according to a Purdue University study.

Based upon these statistics, it pays to make improvements in your customer satisfaction systems. The foundation of good customer service lies in hiring employees who are customer-focused. What does this mean? They must believe in themselves, the company and the products and services they support. Belief is the most powerful persuasion tool and can be detected at an in-person, face-toface meeting or over the phone. Customer-facing individuals need to know their boundaries and be empowered to make decisions that will improve customer satisfaction.

They also need to feel they are supported by everyone in the company and are a key success factor for the company.

Although many companies say customer service is critical, the actions of recognition and rewards do not substantiate the statements. Individuals need to understand they are valued by the entire organization. If an individual feels important and valued, this will project in their voice, attitude and actions with their customers.

In addition to being valued within the company, they also must believe they are offering far more value to the customer than they are asking in return. This is achieved through training the person how to associate the true value of their service to their customers. This includes:

  1. Understanding the customer’s expectations.
  2. Educating the customer on their requirements.
  3. Coaching the customer on their specific needs and realistic expectations.

These individuals need to be well trained in empathetic listening, effective questioning strategies and handling difficult situations.

Empathetic Listening.

There are two types of listening - conscious listening and empathetic listening. Conscious listening is listening for content, and many of us do a very good job of this. Empathetic listing, often times forgotten, can be far more important than conscious listening. Empathetic listening is having a sincere interest in what the customer is trying to achieve and in helping the customer solve his/her issue. It is looking for the emotions behind the words. Some statements that can help in putting a distraught customer at ease include:

  • I understand that you might be angry about this situation.
  • I understand that you are frustrated.

By acknowledging the emotion, the customer service representative calms the customer and communicates interest in resolving the situation. Other advantages to acknowledging emotions include:

  • Establishing credibility and commitment (I understand and I care.) - Decreased time to resolution (Less emotion and more logic) This approach creates a stronger connection with the other person and increases respect, trust and rapport.

Effective Questioning Strategies.

The nature of the service business is to identify and solve customer problems. This is best achieved by clearly understanding the customer’s needs. Questions are therefore a “secret weapon” in dealing with customer situations. Questioning strategies should have a combination of open-ended, closed-ended and high-impact questions.

  • Open-ended questions gather information. They start with the following words: What, Why and Tell me about.. For example: What happened?, Tell me about your situation. and What is the nature of your call?
  • Closed-ended questions are used to guide the discussion and start with words such as: When, Where and Is. Examples include: When did this happen?, Where did this happen? and Is your system working properly now?
  • High-impact questions are designed for gaining the customer’s commitment.

Examples include: What effect does this have on??, What impact will this have on you and your operation? and What does that result in?

In using a combination of these questioning styles, CSRs will build a positive sense of rapport with their customers. Customers will not be on the defensive; rather they will know the representative has a sincere interest in them and their problem. Our recommendation is to start with open-ended, followed by closed-ended and high-impact questions.

In this way, CSRs clarify and confirm the customer situations and identify their particular business problems. For example: What is the problem?, When did it happen? and What is the impact on your business or department?

Check Point Summaries.

Checking in with the customer throughout your conversation helps to restate and clarify the conversation. These are what we call “check-point summaries.” In using check point summaries, we repeat the information that we have gathered back to the customer. Examples would include: Let me see if I understand what is happening, Am I correct in assuming that this is what happens when you try toV In employing check-point summaries, you are showing a sincere interest in this person and their situation. The customer is the center of your focus.

Closing Summaries.

Finally, applying a closing summary at the end of your face-to-face meeting or call will ensure everyone understands the situation and is in agreement with the next steps. Closing summaries recap the situation, outline the next steps, and close by asking if there is an additional request you can fulfill for your customer. This strategy shows you are interested in the customer and his situation and that you want to resolve the situation in an efficient and effective manner to ensure he is fully satisfied.

The approach to managing difficult situations includes the following steps:

  1. Listen to the person’s feelings and good intentions. This means applying conscious and empathetic listening techniques.
  2. Employ questioning strategies. Understand questions are your secret weapon in clearly understanding the situation and building long-term rapport with your customer.
  3. Use check-point summaries to restate and clarify the situation.
  4. Acknowledge the person’s needs, intentions and emotions and the importance of their problem.
  5. Respond with a closing statement.

Nurture the customer by using all of the above techniques. If the customer feels understood and cared for, they will have a good feeling about the company, recommend you to others and remain loyal. This will lead to improved performance and profitability.

Employee loyalty drives customer loyalty, which drives brand recognition.

Dianne Durkin is president and founder of Loyalty Factor, a training and management consulting firm based in Portsmouth, N.H. She can be reached at +1 603 334 3401 or visit for more information.


Forum Corp.
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