This article is a second in the series on Radiating Customer Service. Let’s begin
In our last article we learned that every time someone meets an internal or external customer, customer service begins. Fundamentally, customer service is about forming relationships. The skills we use to form a relationship with a customer are like those we use to from all interpersonal relationships. In this sense, the title of these articles “Radiating Customer Service” could just as easily be “Radiating People-centred Service.” However, there are specific types of relationships that relate to the CSR (Customer Service Representative) and the external customer.
Types of Relationships We Have With External Customers
Our contact with an external customer usually operates at two levels: 1) the need for information about a product or service, and 2) the resulting relationship that binds the customer to the CSR and the business as a brand. Customers have a need for something and they come to a place where they hope that need is fulfilled. It is within these two levels where we experience the exchange between the customer and customer personnel. The extent of that exchange and the relationship that is formed is either transactional, incremental, formative, or formal.
Quick Information Exchanges That Lead to a Transactional Relationship
A “quick information exchange” is usually straight forward. It happens when a customer knows what she wants e.g. “Here is what I want. Do you have it?” "I have a headache. Do you have any aspirins?" In this situation there is limited need for information and limited interest in developing a close relationship.
Although the customer knows (information) what she wants (product), the CSR still must show respect and be available for any questions the customer may have. Here the customer is usually seeking speedy service and convenience. The customer has already decided to pay more for a quality product, or is willing to pay less and is not concerned about product brand, or wants quality at the best price. If the customer has a good experience with this type of exchange, they remember and will return, and branding to the business begins. A “Quick Information Exchange” results in what is called a “Transactional Relationship.”
When customers know what they want, and the product isn’t available, they often do not want a substitute or an up-sell. In fact, they get turned off when a CSR, in all good intention, attempts to substitute brands or up-sell.
An example of a potential transactional relationship gone haywire occurred when Max went shopping. Max went into a menswear store to buy a suit. He knew the style, colour and brand he wanted. He was prepared to sacrifice brand if the style and colour was available, but he wasn’t prepared to give up his colour and style. He told the CSR this. The suit stock did not include the colour, style or brand. The CSR offered a substitute and became persistent that the change of color and style suited Max. Max became frustrated with the CSR and walked out the store. He didn’t want to deal with this CSR again. He told several people about this exchange. In his eyes and in the eyes of others the store brand was diminished by the actions of the CSR.
Supplemental Information Exchanges That Lead to an Incremental Relationship
A “supplemental information exchange” occurs when the customer has some clarity about the product or service he wants but requires additional information. In this case the customer may request, “a pamphlet about the service or product” or say something like, “point me to your website.” This type of need is often expressed over the telephone, by email, or after some discussion with the CSR. Again, just as in a transactional situation, there is limited necessity for a lengthy exchange between the customer and the customer representative, but there is potential for forming or strengthening a future relationship
Supplemental exchanges provide the CSR with an opportunity to follow-up on the request to determine if the customer is satisfied with the information or requires more information. A follow-up shows an interest in the customer outside of the brief exchange and may be the beginning of a more extensive relationship between the CSR and customer, or the customer and the business. In the latter case the customer begins to relate more closely to the business, and the business becomes a brand for the customer. This gets translated as “I go to FACSi Drug Mart (business brand), because the pharmacists (CSR) provide great follow-up service.” The more the customer is satisfied with the information he receives the more he will remember both the CSR and the business. (Note: FACSi Drug Mart is a fictitious name). Supplemental exchanges provide an opportunity for what I call an “Incremental Relationship” as there is an opportunity to incrementally strengthen the bond between the CSR and business brand.
Resolution Information Exchanges That Lead to a Formative Relationship
In a resolution exchange the customer requires more information than in the first two types of exchanges and a closer relationship with the CSR. In this type of customer exchange the customer has a need such that she can’t resolve it by herself. She may not even be able to clearly explain her need, and/or how to resolve it, and/or whether the company provides the product or service to meet it. Here the CSR requires: sound product or service knowledge, where to get the information if he doesn’t know, keen listening skills, and an ability to explain the product or service information in clear and simple language. In the end the CSR wants to ensure the customer has all the information she requires to make an informed decision. The customer will usually remember the CSR as knowledgeable, helpful and respectful when she experiences a positive resolution to her need.
Again, the second stage of the relationship is set. This time the information and the positive customer experience brought about by the closer relationship, binds the customer to the business. I call this a “Formative Relationship” because the CSR is developing or has developed a more lasting relationship with the customer.
Formal Information Exchanges That Lead to a Partnership Relationship
“Formal information exchanges” are extensive and lengthy communications between the customer and CSR. They usually occur at senior/owner levels of the organization and in these cases the owner or senior leader become the CSR. Here the organization and customer establish a bond where each works to achieve a common end. These exchanges reflect a relationship where there is extensive information sharing about products and services and result in a mutually beneficial outcome. Often the exchanges end in a strong legal bond between the business and customer whereby they form of partnership. Hence, I call the results of this exchange a “Partnership Relationship” Partnership arrangement don’t happen that often, but they do occur within the range of customer service relationships.
Companies strive for relational exchanges with their customers through their CSRs. They know the stronger the relationship, the stronger the tie with the business. During all encounters the CSR should: get to know the customer’s name and use it in his explanations; dig to find out more about the customer’s situation that he may use later as a touching point with her; and, keep in touch with her via email or telephone whenever possible.
During each type of relationship exchange we find “moments of truth” discussed in my first article. (LINK) A primary intent of all our relationships, is to strengthen customer loyalty. This means as a CSR we continually strive to raise the bar in our relations with others, not just because it is good for the company, important as that is, but also for ourselves. The more we do for others in a respectful, kind and helpful way the more people reciprocate in the same way. Everybody wins.
Thanks for reading
Richard P. Fontanie
Our next article will explore the importance of a Customer Service Charter.