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To improve service, there must be a companywide understanding that customer service is the first job of every employee, from the president to the newest hire. It must pervade the culture. - Joan Fox
Inspect touch-points

Next, inspect every customer-to-company interface, or touch-point. The customer gains a perception of service at each touch-point. These are all opportunities to create a great impression. The sum of all touch-points is the entirety of the customer's experience.

A typical customer experience may include touch-points with sales, dispatch, a regional supervisor, plant manager, driver, or someone in accounting. To achieve a consistently excellent level of service, you must inspect every customer touch-point routinely. When left unchecked, the result can be sloppy, inconsistent service.

The cavalier attitude of the accounts receivable department affects your business. The driver who shows up on the job in yesterday's dirty shirt is your face to the customer. The dispatcher who told your customer that he is missing a Saturday family picnic because of the customer's job has made your customer feel bad. The salesman who failed to show up at a jobsite as promised has just sent a clear message that your company is unreliable.

Train

Using the data from the touch-points inspection, perform customer service training at every interface. Most companies do not train beyond job skills, leaving the interpersonal interaction with the customer to chance.

Everyone at every touch-point must have a customer service orientation. Effective customer communication should be the rule, not the exception. These skills will raise your company's professionalism and service level. Imagine a producer with the wisdom to train the drivers in customer interaction. They will become ambassadors and customer service professionals—a smart move considering 80% of a ready-mix producer's employees are drivers.

Put the right people in the right places

Hire the right people and put them in the right places and let go of employees with poor customer service skills. Concrete production is not brain surgery. We can teach people the job skills they need.

I am convinced some people should not be allowed to work with other human beings. Employee hiring is an important piece of great customer service. Anyone interfacing with the customer must have a good attitude, a willing spirit, and respectful communication skills.

Start inside

I wish I had a dime for every time that employees told me that their internal customer service was dismal. How can we begin to serve the external customer when distrust, unresponsiveness, and disrespectful communication pervade our own internal environment? To create an environment where the external customer feels served, we must begin inside.

Identify the goal

Customer satisfaction is not the goal. A satisfied customer today can easily be an unhappy, dissatisfied customer tomorrow. It's inevitable that a load will be late once in a while in spite of your greatest efforts.

However, if you take the time to build a good relationship with your customers, when things go wrong (and they will) there is a greater likelihood that the customer will give you a second chance. When you listen to your customers, train employees in customer service skills, have an internal culture of trust and respect, and hire the right people and put them in the right places, you have taken the right steps.

Feeling served

Concrete customers can “get served” anywhere. But there is a difference between “getting served” and “feeling served.” You can take an order, deliver the concrete, send the invoice, and the customer will get served. Your competitors are doing this same thing and believe they have achieved their service goals.

The difference maker is how you define customer service and how you make your customers feel served. When our customers feel served, loyal business relationships develop. So, in the end, only a good relationship will keep them coming back over and over again.

This is simple, but not easy. It requires the commitment of every single employee—everyday, every hour, and every minute.

Getting your service out of a slump is not only necessary for today, but it is the most significant step you can take to becoming a viable competitor in tomorrow's marketplace.

— Joan Fox is a consultant specializing in customer service who works frequently with ready-mix producers. Contact her at joan @joanfox.com or 513-793-9582. For more information on the author, visit her Web site atwww.joanfox.com.