By Trevor Foster, VP of Finance

Providing excellent customer service is touted by practically every service business out there. It makes sense – the company’s primary objective is to serve the customer (by very definition, considering it’s a service business). But that also opens up some issues. For our purposes, let’s assume your company really does outshine the competition with your service – it is a competitive advantage and a differentiator for you in the marketplace. However, the only customers that truly understand this value are the ones that have worked with you for a long time and have worked with other companies in your space. Said differently, when trying to win new business (a common and worthy goal for most businesses) you have no way of demonstrating that when you say you have excellent Customer Service, you really mean it. These prospective customers hear the same thing from your competitors and your only argument to stand out is to say “trust me.”

So, what then? Does that mean you can’t say you have excellent Customer Service? Well, no –you would certainly stand out for not saying it. But, as I’ll argue, you shouldn’t be bragging about it, either. Sound like a rock and a hard place; a lose-lose situation? It doesn’t have to be. I’ll explain why the “Excellent Customer Service” message you send to customers hurts your brand, why you still need to deliver the message, and just how in the world to do that quickly and easily.

What you say is not what they hear

You communicate on a daily basis, nearly all the time. It’s said that you communicate more with your eyes than with your words (I’ve gotten some pretty powerful “communication” from my wife through just her eyes; she’s such an efficient communicator). You probably know that crossing your arms when listening to someone makes you seem closed off to their message. But what about when you say the right words, use the appropriate eye contact, and exhibit the perfect body language and your audience still doesn’t hear what you want them to? Sharon Drew Morgen (Amazon Best Seller and inventor of the Buying Facilitation® model) wrote on that “Listeners translate what they hear through a series of unconscious filters (biases, assumptions, triggers, habits, imperfect memory etc.)…” This means that what the listener hears is passed through these filters before they translate your intended message. You can’t control the biases and assumptions, which can often lead to misunderstandings. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter what you say and do if your audience doesn’t get the message – the burden’s on you. So, when you’ve done practically everything you can do and your audience still doesn’t get the message you’re sending them, it seems you just can’t win.

That’s what happens when you tell someone your company has excellent Customer Service as that phrase has a predetermined meaning to the recipient of the message. When your prospects hears this, they translate it to mean that you are only saying what they want to hear and are not providing them with clear, tangible reasons why your company is better than the competition. In my opinion, this is damaging your brand. Only saying what they want to hear leads to distrust, which will create friction for other assertions you make in your sales process. Again, we are operating under the assumption that your Customer Service really is excellent and that it is a competitive advantage for you – but you still hurt your brand when you try to tell someone that. When you are trying to get a message across that was doomed from the start, you’re simply setting yourself up for failure.

Why excellent Customer Service is too important to ignore

As I previously pointed out, not communicating anything about your Customer Service is even worse than claiming to be the best!   Customer Service is vital to your business and you are more than likely expending lots of effort (not to mention spending lots of money) to provide that “better-than-the-competition” service. The service you provide your customers is possibly the biggest retention device you have at your disposal because, even in a day when computers are supposedly stealing all of our jobs, people still value the way excellent service makes them feel. So how do you bridge the gap between trying to showcase how amazing your customer service levels are with prospects that are hearing this same statement from every prospective supplier?  How do keep your genuine pride on your company’s service focus from falling on deaf ears?

To do that, you need to bring a little more than your word and a big smile. You need proof! You are fighting the emotional side of the brain (where the predetermined responses live) by engaging the rational side of the brain (where rational thought and things like math happens) – characterized as the emotional Elephant versus the rational Rider, by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis. Chip and Dan Heath picked up this metaphor in their book Switch when they wrote that “Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.” This means that, while the Rider has the ability to guide the Elephant, it takes a concerted effort to ensure this happens – the Rider has to pick his or her battles wisely so as not to become exhausted. The natural response is to let the Elephant (or the emotional side of the brain) handle things whenever possible simply to conserve mental energy. Your job is to overcome this by engaging with your prospects’ rational thought process and there’s no better way to do that than to offer up some data!

What you should do instead

That brings me to how to deal with this problem – overcoming the negative connotation of touting your service while still taking advantage of a strength of your organization. I’ve suggested that you use data to engage the rational-thought side of your prospects’ brain, but doing that can seem a little daunting. That’s why you need to put in the work up front to arm the selling process with data required to make this change-of-mind happen in your prospects. One way is to ask existing customers if they would be willing to be references, but a prospect is usually quite far along in the pipeline when they will reach out to have these conversations. I believe that, while powerful, this is not the best tool you have at your disposal early on in the sales process. Instead, use the magic number – your company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) invented by Fred Reicheld. In effect, this is the net percentage of customers that promote versus detract you in the marketplace. This is a widely accepted quantitative measure of what your customers’ think about you. It all centers around one single question: On a scale of 0 – 10, how likely is it that you would recommend our service to a friend or colleague? This is designed to ask the person to put their reputation on the line (by aligning it with your brand) and to recommend your services to their colleagues. This accomplishes the data element of my solution excellently – you have measured what kind of service your current customers are getting using a widely accepted method. It also allows you to side step the negative connotation of actually saying “we provide excellent Customer Service” thereby not triggering that response in your prospects. Instead, you simply say you’d like to point out that your NPS score is class-leading and is something your company is very proud of – the prospect then takes in these facts and comes to the conclusion that you must be providing excellent service if you’ve got so many customers that are willing to recommend you.

Don’t brag about your service being better than the competition’s. Instead, put the message in a form that your prospect can understand by using hard data that allows them to come to the conclusion on their own. Stop bragging and start communicating your NPS score, you’ll win more business this way – trust me…

Innovative Employee Solutions (IES) frequently wins and retains business based on our own excellent Customer Service. Competing with other payrolling and employer of record companies, there are two big areas where one can have an advantage – price and service. Since we decided to build a company whose culture screams great service, we knew that we couldn’t compete just on price because some of our competitors offer a one-size-fits-all approach for less money. That’s why we began our process to first validate that we were in fact offering class-leading service and to then be able to quantify that to our prospects and customers.

IES engages a third-party company to survey our clients on an annual basis to measure our client satisfaction and generate our NPS score.  This score allows us put our money where our mouth is – it is a tangible metric that confirms our commitment to excellent customer service.  IES’s 2016 NPS score is 43.  Data from a recent Inavero survey shows that IES’s NPS is roughly double the average score for Professional Service Firms that offer Business Process Outsouring and is 46 points higher than the 2015 NPS average rating for staffing firms.

Showcasing our NPS, especially as it compares to ‘like’ companies, has made a tremendous impact in IES’s ability to highlight one of our core strengths in providing excellent customer service, as well as in our prospects truly understanding what this would mean for them as a client.  Contact us at 858-715-5100 to find out more!

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