It should seem pretty obvious why good customer service would be a prerequisite for running a successful retail business, but with all the really bad or just indifferent customer service we all encounter on a regular basis it appears that it is worth examining. In the course of this blog I will distinguish between “external” customer service and “internal” customer service. External customer service is about taking care of the people who pay our salary – our actual customers. Internal customer service is about how we treat those we work with. It is a reflection of a business’ “culture.” Internal and external customer service are inextricably intertwined.
I hope to demonstrate in the course of writing this blog that internal customer service or what is known in corporate-speak as “employee engagement” is a critical component in delivering a customer-focused environment. Employee engagement is how employees feel about the company they work for, the person or people they work with, their pay and benefits and their opportunities to succeed and advance, et al. People want to feel good about where they work and the people they work with. Many people spend much of their day at work and when they come home they talk about work. If your employees are unhappy, trust me, your customers won’t be happy either.
Delivering good customer service consistently is not unlike driving many other metrics in business. It requires a multi-faceted strategy that includes enormous effort, focus, good communication skills and a plan that will encompass some very basic tactics and often some rather sophisticated ones. In the end, good customer service – internal and external — is smart business. It drives revenue, reduces costs by increasing employee retention and helps grow your business.
The other premise I want to touch upon just briefly for now has to do with the sub-title of this blog, “Civility in the 21st Century.” Having spent the past 30 years in New York City as a transplanted Midwesterner I can say it feels as if the closer you get to any urban center the general level of civility starts to drop. This is not universally the case perhaps, but it has a strong ring of truth to it. Manhattan, at least at times, feels like the epicenter for just plain rudeness. Sometimes it is someone talking too loudly on their phone in a restaurant or someone texting as they ever so slowly climb the stairs in a busy rush hour subway station, totally oblivious to the hundreds of harried commuters behind them trying to get work (or home.)
I will leave the specific reasons for such behavior to sociologists and psychiatrists. I do strongly believe that the pervasive lack of good or even adequate customer service and the rudeness and lack of civility that has become a part of our daily lives are all part and parcel of what some have called the “culture of me.” I am going to do my best to lay out a plan, a course of action, to create a positive, customer-focused environment as an essential component to any successful business, but society’s lack of common civility is unfortunately a bigger task than I can address. I believe though that having a good grasp of why so many people just do not care about those around them is an important and perhaps essential component in addressing customer service in any business.