Seasoned successful artists are applauded for painting outside the lines. Their new and creative artwork inspires us!

Beginning artists, on the other hand, are applauded when they stay inside the lines. We cheer when our little ones bring their scribbling within the coloring book’s line images. In art class, once the basics are learned the art teacher can say to their students, “Paint away! Take liberties! Get creative!”

So it is with customer service. There are six topics to master for the customer service expert: 1. The Customer, 2. The Supplier, 3. The Product or Service, 4. The Requirements, 5. The Agreement, and 6. The Follow Up. Training staff to color within these lines is key to long-range, out-of-the-box, excellent customer service. Let’s look at these six.

  1. The Customer. A customer is someone who needs, wants or desires something from us. Great service begins by asking, “What does my customer really want?” The better we get at answering this question the better our customer service will be.

Beyond needs, we listen for wants and desires. Supplying these provides frosting on the cake. The customer is delighted, not just satisfied.

Who are our potential customers? Not just outside clients but also co-workers, supervisors, staff in other departments, and so on. These are our internal customers.

How we serve each other internally inevitably impacts the kind of service our external customers experience. The importance of excellent internal customer is often missed, or even avoided, when companies train for customer service.

  1. The Supplier. A supplier provides something that the customer needs, wants, or desires. If someone on your work team needs, desires, or wants something try thinking of yourself as their in-house supplier. Think of them as your customer, even if they sit right next to you.

According to the Gallup Poll about 71% of the workforce is either disengaged or actively disengaged from their work. Imagine the impact of a disengaged team-member on the customer service they are supplying to their internal team and external customers.

Great suppliers take every relationship seriously, as if the company’s success depended on it. Rudeness, cliques, gossip, and cold-shoulder treatment have no place in their thinking or behavior.

Gallop calls them engaged employees. They treat team members with the same respect and service as they would an external customer. They tune into ways to delight fellow staff members, bosses, as well as the end-user customers.

  1. The Product or Service. Products are tangible. Services are intangible.

Generally, products can be touched and handled and examined before being supplied to the customer. Services are streaming, live, and in the moment. Electronics, such as phone and computer services, are a bit of both since they can be measured, like a product, and are streaming, like a service.

Customer service is generally intangible and in the moment. Although it can have a tangible product aspect, such as in the customer service representative’s grooming and appearance.

  1. The Requirements. Both the customer and supplier have requirements for customer service success.

Requirements are the specific needs, wants, and desires of both sides in the form of metrics, expectations, and even, demands. Customer service is all about making sure those requirements are happily fulfilled.

The better each side can articulate their requirements the sweeter the deal will be. If requirements on either side are not clarified and fulfilled the deal can easily turn sour.

  1. The Agreement. Once the requirements are stated then an agreement can be reached. Wise companies seek win-win agreements.

They want both their customer’s and their own (supplier) requirements met as completely as possible. They know that gaining a win at the customer’s expense, or losing too much as the supplier, can damage future business.

  1. The Follow Up. This is the most powerful and often the most neglected customer service step.

Follow-up is the strongest way to prove that a relationship exists and that the supplier cares about their customer. It first asks, “How did we do?” Then it explores, “What can we do even better next time to meet your future needs, wants, and desires?”

Follow-up is the supplier’s opportunity to begin the whole cycle again with the Customer, for future Products or Services, discovering Requirements, and making the next Agreement, upon which to Follow Up.

May your customer service artwork become a famous masterpiece!

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Above post was first published as my “At Your Service” Customer Service Column in the Central Valley Business Journal for August 2015.