When you go into a store or a restaurant and are the victim of bad service, do you think the owner wanted it that way? Imagine a meeting in which employees are told, "We've been much too helpful to our customers lately; everyone must make an effort to curb that."
Silly? Maybe, but all of us have had those service-from-hell encounters that make us wonder if the business itself (not just its staff) has any concern for customer satisfaction. To be successful, owners, managers and staff members must understand that service is everyone's responsibility. "The entire organization must become obsessed with what the customer wants," says Peggy Morrow, author of Customer Service—the Key to your Competitive Edge.
As an owner or manager, before you can expect your customer service ethic to be embraced, you must be sure that you are servicing your internal customers—your employees—effectively. If low morale is rampant in your laboratory, it's going to be difficult to rally the troops.
On the flip side, employees who feel valued and are shown how their work contributes to the success of your business are more likely to "buy in" to service goals and supply the enthusiasm you need to fire up your service effort. "You have to treat your employees the same way you want them to treat your customers," says Dave Baylis, vice president of sales and marketing for Keller Laboratories in St. Louis, Missouri. "We have the same goal for employee satisfaction that we have for customer satisfaction: we want to exceed their expectations."
'No magic wand' Even the most motivated, eager-to-please employees need some guidance. Slogans and buzz words don't give them the skills they need to provide superior service. "Business owners sometimes think they can wave a magic wand and get everyone to treat customers properly. In fact, they need to provide training so people truly understand that they're in the service business," says John Tschohl, founder and president of the Minneapolis-based Service Quality Institute, which provides a series of service training seminars.
While formal service training is ideal, it's not always practical for smaller organizations. But there are still efforts you can undertake to keep employees focused on top-notch service. Here are some ideas:
Let employees know what's expected of them. "To provide a firm, stable foundation for service, the laboratory owner must be sure that he shares his goals for the business with his employees," says R. Max Schulze, MDT, CDT, director of Techquest International, a dental training company in West Orange, New Jersey.
For example, Dental Craft Corp., Ringwood, Illinois has five promises that it publishes for its customers: to be dedicated to excellence, to deliver added value, to go the extra mile, to deal ethically and fairly and to communicate. "We tape a copy of the five promises to every bench so people are constantly reminded of them. That's how we try to keep everyone on the same page," says Bob Wakitsch, co-owner.
Indoctrinate early. "I start talking about our commitment to service on day one—during the interview—whether the applicant is a potential technician, driver or administrative employee," says Kathy Pascoe, co-owner of Prosthodent Dental Studio, Clinton Township, Michigan. Then consistently reinforce that commitment. Share "great service stories" from your laboratory's history and invite employees to share uplifting or disappointing stories from their shopping experiences.
Share customer feedback. Don't make the mistake of only mentioning the areas that need improvement. Keep employees "fired up" about your service commitment by letting them know customers have noticed and appreciate their efforts.
Empower your staff. "There is always a way to satisfy the customer," says Morrow. "You must give your employees the power to do so." If you're a larger laboratory that employs customer service representatives or other "front-line" staff, you must allow those employees to make decisions or offer solutions to problems. Set guidelines for employees to follow and be sure they have "the big picture," so that they understand how their decisions affect the laboratory's profits and work flow.
For example, over the last year, Keller Laboratories has given employees more leeway to make on-the-spot decisions rather than asking management what to do. "They can decide to remake a case for free, or to overnight a case." This avoids putting off a customer and shows him that service is a matter of course at your laboratory. It also gives your employees a chance to "own" making a customer happy.