Consistency is key to great utility customer service

Phoenix, AZ, Sept. 12, 2008 — Most businesses say it’s their service that sets them apart, but many people don’t believe these claims because their daily experience tells them otherwise. Utilities can avoid this dilemma by taking specific steps to consistently deliver quality customer service.

“If you surveyed every customer, new and old alike, that did business with your utility the last 60 days, what would they say about their buying experience or their experience when they came in to pay their bill or called with a problem?” asks David Saxby, president of Measure-X, a company that specializes in helping utilities improve their customer service and sales. “Would every one of them say you provide friendly service and that your staff is knowledgeable and treats them in a warm, friendly manner?”

Consistency is one of the critical keys to great service, according to Saxby. He offers the following thoughts on how to achieve that uniformity.

Create service standards. It’s critical to have written service standards and just as important to have employee input as they are created, Saxby says. “Involve supervisors and staff in developing service standards for your utility,” Saxby says. “You can create the best standards in the world, but if the people who are expected to implement them aren’t onboard, you’re wasting your time.”

Greet customers properly in person. The customer service experience begins with the initial greeting, Saxby notes. “Create a standard that each customer is greeted with a warm smile and eye contact before they reach the customer service representative,” Saxby explains. “Create a standard that every CSR stops any task or conversation to greet the customer before the customer reaches their desk. How many times, as a customer, have you watched and waited while a CSR completed a task or talked with their co-workers?”

Greet customers properly on the phone. Increasingly, customer inquiries are coming in over the telephone, making the standard for how CSRs greet customers on the phone critical, Saxby says. “A CSR simply cannot use body language, smiles and eye contact to communicate with a customer during a telephone conversation,” Saxby points out. “Create a standard that every time a CSR greets a customer on the phone, they introduce themselves using the company name and their name with a friendly inflection in their voice. The inflection must communicate that this is an employee who is ready to help the customer with any problem or question they may have.”

Use the customer’s name. In most interactions, the CSR needs to access the customer’s account either to check information or for security purposes and that creates an opportunity to personalize the conversation, Saxby says. “Create a standard that CSRs will use the customer’s name during the interaction,” Saxby says. “If the customer is new to the utility, the CSR should ask for the customer’s name so they can use it. Customers want to be treated like they are special. And using the customer’s name during an interaction is a simple way to strengthen the relationship between that person and the CSR.”

Show appreciation. Set a standard that at the end of every interaction, the CSR looks the customer in the eye, uses the customer’s name when available and delivers a genuine thank-you for their business, Saxby says. “How many companies have you given your money to the past week where you, the customer, were the first to say thank you?” Saxby asks. “You may have been the only one to say thanks. It only takes seconds to show genuine appreciation to your customers for their business.”

Emphasize employee development. Simply creating and communicating standards to staff members is not enough, Saxby says. “Your staff needs customer service skills and they must understand how important those standards are to improving the customer’s experience,” Saxby explains. “Invest money and time to give your employees the skills necessary to communicate, listen and show appreciation to your customers. Skill development is an on-going investment in improving customer service.”

Walk the talk. From the top down, every person at the utility must deliver on the standards, Saxby says. “If management delivers those standards in their interactions with customers, they become a shining example for the rest of the utility,” Saxby says.

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