Good customer service has a positive impact on a company’s financial health, but have we ever considered the health effect of customer service on the customer? How companies manage customer service has a direct impact on consumer health.
It’s easy to identify the difference between excellent customer service and poor customer service. We’ve all had both experiences, and each elicits a different emotional and physical response. A good customer service experience leaves us happy, relieved, and optimistic. Our stress levels go down as we relax, and our heart rate is measurably lower when accompanied by the good feeling of being heard and valued and getting what we need and want. Compare this to the terrible, frustrating experience with a company that is difficult to deal with and doesn’t have a culture of service and problem resolution. We are left angry and unsettled with rising body temperatures and increased anxiety levels.
Frustration and stress are real reactions to poor customer service that have a negative impact on the health of consumers. Customers are more likely to talk about their negative experiences than positive ones, which, along with being bad for business, prolongs the negative effects on their health. Bad customer service costs companies $62 billion a year, but it may be costing consumers more.
When we stop to consider the detriment to the health of the customer who experiences these disastrous service episodes, it becomes even more concerning. Ironically, some of the worst customer service experiences, according to every generation from Gen Z to the silent generation, are from healthcare organizations. For the good of public health, companies and service providers should take a page from the organizations that get high marks from all generations for great service, including Amazon, American Express, and Best Buy. What do these companies do that set them apart? They listen, and they serve the customer. Their customer service teams are knowledgeable and helpful, trained and empowered to solve customer problems. They do things right the first time and resolve issues quickly when things go wrong. They deliver what customers want, whether it’s home goods or health care.
“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt
Who Is Responsible?
We all are. Every company and everyone involved in customer service and customer experience need to recognize and act on four basic pillars of customer service: perspectives, policies, practice, and people.
There is a business imperative for customer-driven strategies and efforts to appreciate and serve the customer. Best-selling business books talk about what a great customer experience looks like and how we can best help our customers. Yet often when companies talk about the customers within the walls of their business, there is a certain disdain. How do you change that culture? A regional head of client service at a major health care company recently told me she and her team celebrate customers asking questions and complaining. That’s how they know where the inconsistencies are in their service and how to improve services and communications. When you welcome your customers to communicate problems, your company has the opportunity to make it right. Changing the perspective from complaining to serving is a path to better customer service and improved customer health.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates
Great customer service starts with hiring the right people and then training them well. It involves teaching people to listen, to calm agitated customers, and to know when it’s time to hand the call over. Effective policies have long been in place at companies that provide great customer service. These policies ensure that customers are treated properly and that their problems are resolved quickly.
No company likes hearing that a customer has been mistreated by the very people hired to help them. One health insurance customer described how she was being “harassed by their incompetence” (her words) and asked, then begged, to be transferred to a supervisor. The customer service representative refused to transfer her, because, she was told, the supervisor would not tell her anything different. The woman was forced to hang up without a resolution to her problem, then spent a considerable amount of time and effort finding a way to contact a supervisor through a different channel. The supervisor was shocked that she had not been transferred when she asked, and while he was able to fix her problem, the customer’s trust and confidence in the company were destroyed. It took several follow up calls and emails and three months to get it straightened out, so it also took a toll on her health.
“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.” – Donald Porter, V.P. British Airways
We have the opportunity to practice customer service every day – whether we are the customer or the customer service provider. In fact, maybe we should see every human interaction as a customer interaction – and every customer service interaction as a human interaction. The practice of customer service is a culture of valuing the people with whom we interact, valuing input and feedback for continuous improvement, and valuing our collective ability to communicate, interact with empathy, and right what goes wrong.
“To earn the respect (and eventually love) of your customers, you first have to respect those customers. That is why Golden Rule behavior is embraced by most of the winning companies.” – Colleen Barrett, Southwest Airlines President Emeritus
No company can afford to neglect the people who come into contact with customer service. Customers need to know that when they interact with someone that the person cares, is trained, and is empowered to take appropriate action. To do that, companies cannot neglect their front-line customer service workers. These people are the face of the organization and often the first – and last – brand interaction the customer has. You can’t have happy customers without happy employees.
“You are serving a customer, not a life sentence. Learn how to enjoy your work.” – Laurie McIntos
What to Do
- Know thyself. Experience your own customer service. Go in and see for yourself. Call in with a question and a problem. See what the response time and approach are. Really listen to recordings, for “training purposes.” What does a good customer service experience sound and feel like versus a poor one? Implement good practices. Learn from mistakes.
- Learn from the best. This includes customers, customer service people at all levels, and industry experts. 79% of customers will readily tell you how you messed up. Speak to your customer service people. They want to do their job well, and they can tell you their biggest obstacles and the most common complaints. Experience the customer service of the best in the business, inside and outside of your industry. Ask your customers about them.
- Fix it. Redesign your practices and processes to eliminate inconsistencies and problems and speed up response time. It’s not the customer’s fault if you have a poor technical infrastructure, but they suffer as a result.
- Focus and prioritize. Keep customer service a priority, and give customer service and customer experience people a voice at the table.
Successful – and healthy – customer service happens when you create a culture dedicated to service. Don’t be the company that raises stress levels and impairs consumer health. Be a company that customers feel good about engaging with.
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