Look outward, not inward

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Q. What is good customer service, and how do I define this aspect of my business?

A. Many business professionals will give you various answers to these two questions. My take is that there are only two possible answers: Customer service is either internally focused or externally focused.

Determining if your customer service is either internally or externally focused is a simple matter of reviewing your policies and training practices. If your policies focus on the cost of replacement, the need to limit your exposure, or what your employees can and can’t do without approval, chances are your customer service is internally focused. This is a transactional-based customer service model.

When a company’s polices are externally focused, its vision is to serve the customer and its policies center around customer retention and positive outcomes. These policies focus on the long-term relationship with the customer. According to Business Week’s annual survey of the most respected leaders in customer service, companies like Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines have developed a vision that is customer focused. Each of these companies has significantly higher customer satisfaction ratings than their competitors. Businesses that focus on customers allow customers to define great customer service by asking what they expect and want.

Therefore, you should ask yourself this: Who defines customer service in my organization—my policies or my customer?

If you’ve determined that your policies define customer service in your organization, and you want to change that focus, the first step is to create a vision of excellent customer service. Ask both yourself and your customers what they expect and want from you and your business. Develop a vision that will lead you to future growth.

Wes Hopper is the director of national accounts for home care for McKesson. He can be reached at 540-662-1319 or wes.hopper@mckesson.com