We've all been a customer at some point, and, unfortunately, we've probably all been subjected to horrible customer service. We also all know that word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. You've probably heard about a new product or restaurant and immediately asked around to see what others thought. This happens in our line of business as well.
Our customers can make us or break us, and whether we make it or not can be due to simple things we take for granted. Micah Soloman wrote an article for Forbes.com, outlining the top 13 customer service mistakes that companies make time and time again.
Here are the top 6 from Micah's list that I feel affect financial institutions, plus, I've included suggestions to overcome them.
- Refusing to say you're sorry. Or, saying you're sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren't, really.
This one is actually a combination of #1 and #2 on Micah's list.
If you choose not to acknowledge errors and make a habit of sweeping mistakes under the rug, you'll lose customers time and time again. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a mistake is made, you need to take the time to admit it. Although it doesn't feel great to come clean and admit you're not perfect, your customers will appreciate it and find value in your honesty and transparency. People are more willing to come back and use your services again if you take accountability for things that go wrong.
HOWEVER, you can't just say you're sorry—you have to mean it.
Have you ever been in a situation when you're on the phone with a company, mad as can be because THEY messed up, and the person on the other end of the line says flippantly, "Sorry, but...(blah, blah, blah)"? How did it make you feel? Were you appreciative, or were you even more frustrated and angry than before? I'm sure it was the latter. This lack of sincerity happens quite often. Most times, it's because the employee isn't the one who's actually responsible for the mistake—it could have been a teammate, their boss, or even someone in separate division. So, they have the "it's not MY problem" mentality (like we've all had at one time or another), making it easy to say they're sorry without meaning it at all. The problem is, people can sense when someone's being insincere right away.
Create an employee training on sympathy versus empathy; this can help teach your staff how to apologize appropriately and the importance of it.
- Getting excited about your newly-installed self-service channel, and then forcing every customer to use it, whether it suits them or not.
This has happened to all of us, to some degree. You get incredibly excited about this new technology because it's going to show the world that you're "innovative" and "focused on the customer experience." Obviously, since you're super jazzed about it, your customers will be, too—right? So, you hype it up for months and then finally introduce it to your customers through a huge launch campaign. Then, the backlash starts. The irate customers start to express their frustrations with the change. They threaten to leave and take their money to an institution that won't force them to use something they don't want.
Their frustration is understandable—most, if not all, of us have experienced it ourselves in one way or another. I mean, look at the three primary ways people react to automated phone systems:
They press zero over and over again to get to a live person
They begin screaming "representative....representative...rep-re-sen-ta-tive....REPRESENTATIVE!!!!" at the phone until they're finally speaking with a live person
They just hang up because they're too annoyed
The lesson in this example: maybe there should be a menu option that immediately sends customers to a live person instead of making them endure a seemingly endless menu of abstract phone prompts.
When researching new technology, remember to consider how it'll affect the user. Play "devil's advocate," and bring to light all the possible pros and cons. If you have the ability, conduct customer focus groups to get real feedback from actual users. Then, decide if you're going to offer this as an option, or make it a mandatory, permanent change.
- Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers. Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.
Your word is all you have, so if you announce to your customers that a new enhanced mobile banking site will launch on Jan. 1, 2014, then January 2 is an unacceptable delivery date. Don't tell customers they will receive a refund within 10 days, unless you're absolutely sure that's what will happen. You may think these things are "small potatoes," but to your customers; these are signs that you're not reliable.
Customers will remember that you didn't follow through and live up to your word. If they can't depend on you to meet deadlines you set for yourself, it may be hard for them to trust you with other things—like, not losing all of their money, or managing their investments wisely, or living up to your loan agreements, for instance. As a business partner, it's important to remember to always "under promise and over deliver." This will ensure you're not setting up unrealistic timelines or making promises you can't keep. Remember, setting appropriate expectations is more than half the battle. Making a lasting impression with your customers—that goes along way.
- Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of putting employeesand customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
Over and over again, we're told that in the world of business, you should lead by example. This is probably one of the hardest things to do. As a boss, you know how you want employees to act , and you probably think you know how to manage our staff effectively. But, do you know what it's actually like to work for you? Probably not. There's a reason why there are so many LinkedIn articles, blog posts, reports, and op-eds about horrible bosses... Just sayin'.
What differentiates a good boss from a horrible boss is that a good boss treats employees like they are actual human beings—with feelings, thoughts, and lives all of their own. They show their employees, peers, and senior managers that they value their expertise and the work they do, and they truly lead by example. They aren't the type of people who got where they are by ripping people down or by sabotaging the competition.
Good bosses also give praise when it's deserved, give constructive criticism when needed, and empower their employees to develop themselves personally and professionally, giving them the tools to succeed and then getting out of their way. When someone is in a positive environment where they are treated like they matter, they are more likely to relay that treatment to others and enjoy their job more overall.
To make sure you are being the best, most effective boss you can be, consider getting an annual (or more frequent) performance review from your employees. You'd be shocked to find out some of the feedback they'll actually give you if you honestly ask for it and give them the freedom to answer truthfully.
- Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never. Not taking checks, for instance, because one time someone bounced one.
Customers pick up on cues regarding the quality of your offering and your business from the darndest places. Things as little as a typo on a promotional sign, a pothole in your parking lot, or an employee's clothing mishap send signals about your institution. But, your customers understand that we're all humans, and we all make mistakes. That's why they are able to overlook that ketchup stain on your tie—I mean, everyone drops a french fry on themselves at some point in their life, right? Your customers know these things happen, and they aren't going to stop banking with you because of them.
The funny thing is, most financial institutions don't overlook their customers' simple one-time mistakes. For example: in lending, I understand that we have to look at the total picture and be aware of past situations/behaviors in order to know whether or not someone is a risk to lend to, but is that one late payment from five years ago really going to be the reason you deny a loan? Sometimes, we're in a hurry. Sometimes, we're just sloppy. Again, we're all human! I'm not saying that you should take on a bunch of risky borrowers just to be nice, but it's important to understand that one or two late payments or one bounced check doesn't paint the entire picture of a borrower.
- Trying to be all Dale Carnegie by inserting your customer’s name into every other line of a conversation—but using the wrong pronunciation. Or, personalizing your correspondence with a customer—but misspelling her name.
I have a big issue with this. My name is constantly misspelled, and I get irritated every time it happens. It makes me feel like I wasn't important enough to have my name spelled correctly. Make sure to review signatures in emails for appropriate spelling, refer to business cards, or if the customer gives you an I.D. with something that looks a little tricky, ask them how to pronounce their name. Take the time to get things right.
Also, just using someone's name too often can be a turnoff, so getting the right frequency helps. There is a fine line. Think about when you go to a store to shop. You walk in, the sales person approaches you, asks your name and then proceeds to follow you around. While they're following you, they continually say your name. At some point, you become annoyed and you have a couple of options: you politely tell the sales person you will reach out when you need assistance or you walk out to never return. Most of us want a laid-back sales person who knows when to check in and assist. Consider adding a training class of this sort to your employee development strategy. Address company protocol on how to handle customer service issues and how to be helpful, without pestering customers.
In the end, there is a lot to remember when it comes to customer service. I truly believe that using the KISS model (Keep It Simple Stupid), is a great way to understand the customer service approach. Simple models are easy for people to remember and emulate. Introduce one new trick or tip per month. Encourage your employees to submit suggestions on ways to improve customer service, and consider rewarding employees for providing exemplary customer service. Hilton has a program called "Catch Me at My Best," and when you come across an employee that is delivering outstanding service, you can note them and their deed and they are offered prizes. After all, who doesn't love a reward?
For more ideas on how to improve customer service without adding new staff or technology, check out "3 Ways You Can Improve Customer Service in 2014." The ideas here are simple and can apply to any business, at any time.