Great news!  The all important consumer spending index appears to have been up in March.

One key and positive sign on the long road to economic recovery!  But as with all good news comes other potential roadblocks.  A key challenge is the fact that people have been battered, bruised, and shell-shocked by the downturn for so long, that it’s difficult to tell how their long-term attitudes towards spending may have been affected.

Now more than ever, businesses need to maintain their focus on their customers. They spent more in March, but what about the next month?  The next quarter?  Or through the end of your fiscal year? Companies would like to be able to breathe a sigh of relief, raise prices, and start to recoup some of the losses they’ve sustained and to begin to grow a little or a lot! That’s not unreasonable.

But first you have to know who’s buying from you and why. Is it for convenience?  Price?  Brand loyalty? Great customer service?  If your clients suddenly feel more financial confidence and choose to spend more, will they spend it with you, or take their business elsewhere?

The one thing you CAN control is your staff’s understanding of the importance of your clients that buy from you.  And what your expectations are in that area.  Also, don’t forget to spend time talking about and explaining further the most important customers of all, each employee in your organization and how they deal with their fellow employees and leaders.  Lousy internal communication will eventually seep out to the client.  It always does.  So start from the inside and work your way outwards to the external customers for the best, long-term results.

Six Keys to Great Customer Experiences

In both good times and bad the lifetime value of one customer can be exponentially greater than the value of a series of single transactions from one-time customers. In this era of social networking, it only takes one Tweet or Facebook status update to seriously damage a company’s reputation.

One bad customer experience can cost you that customer for life. Think about these situations from the perspective of a customer: It doesn’t take much for a customer to decide that you and your company aren’t worth his time, effort, or money.

There has been some research, courtesy of Profiles International, that has been continually refined over the last two decades with thousands of clients and across hundreds of industries.  Six core behaviors of your customer-facing employees have been identified as those that make the biggest difference for your business. They are:

  1. Trust
  2. Tact
  3. Empathy
  4. Conformity
  5. Focus
  6. Flexibility

The following paragraphs are a synopsis of that years and years of research.  Please take a closer look!

1. Trust. Trusting individuals tend to believe that the motives of others are honorable. It’s easy for your people to become defensive when they’re presented with problems, especially when it seems that the person presenting the problem has a hidden agenda.

  • People with low levels of trust are often described as wary, vigilant, or skeptical.
  • Those with high levels of trust are often described as unquestioning, uncritical, or optimistic.

The optimal degree of trustworthiness depends on your business, but naivet� is never optimal.  For example, an IRS agent will probably be less trusting than the front desk clerk of a Ritz-Carlton hotel.  But you  jeopardize your chance to build long-term, loyal customers if you assume from the outset that their motives are not honorable.

2. Tact. How you say something to a customer can be just as important as what you say. Your customers don’t know what they don’t know, and they may make incorrect assumptions about what they need or how something works.  They also don’t want to feel stupid.

  • Tactful people tend to state their positions without offending others and are often described as discreet, diplomatic, or restrained.
  • Less tactful people are often described as direct, obvious, or forthright

The bottom line is that how you say something to a customer can be just as important as what you say, especially in an emotionally charged situation.

3. Empathy. Customers need to feel that someone cares about their experience. Customers like to feel loved, and they get turned off very quickly when they sense that you don’t care about the pain they’re feeling.  Even if you can’t help them because the situation is beyond your control, acknowledge that you understand both the situation and their frustration.

  • People with high levels of empathy tend to understand others’ feelings and are often described as understanding, compassionate, or sensitive.
  • People with low levels of empathy are often described as detached, indifferent, or distant.

4. Conformity. The optimal degree of conformity for your customer-facing people really depends on your business. The key is understanding your customers’ objectives and expectations.

  • People with high levels of conformity have a strong tendency to comply with the rules and with those in authority. They are often described as traditional, compliant, or conventional.
  • People with low levels of conformity are often described as inventive, free-spirited, or independent.

Some positions also require high conformity due to legal, regulatory, and safety requirements. In this case, it is best to balance the need to conform with high empathy and tact, since it is unlikely that the service provider will be able to bend the rules. Your customer-facing people should be aware of the stress this places on the customer, and they should let the customer know that they feel his or her pain.

5. Focus. Customer service is about relentless focus. Obviously, no customer wants the person serving her to be distracted or preoccupied.  On the other hand, being too focused can be a bad thing.  Be sure your people understand the degree of focus required for the job.

  • Highly focused people tend to stay on task regardless of distractions, and they are often described as attentive, purposeful, or efficient.
  • People with little ability to focus are often described as distractible, preoccupied, or inefficient. They may have a hard time working in an environment with many distractions such as a bullpen-type call center.

6. Flexibility. Companies that provide the best service think in terms of the customer, and this requires employee willingness and flexibility. Highly flexible people can be creative problem solvers, but they risk becoming bored if the problems they are trying to solve are routine or repetitious. They may also try to overcomplicate simple issues just so they can add variety to their assignments.  On the other hand, it’s easy to assume that your customer-facing employees should be flexible in order to accommodate customer needs, but this isn’t always the case.  Less-flexible people often prefer routine or repetitious tasks that change little over time — new methods or routines can overwhelm them. They are often better suited for customer interactions that involve routine tasks with clearly defined rules and procedures.

  • Less flexible people are often described as uncompromising, rigid, or cautious.
  • Highly flexible people tend to explore new approaches to doing things, and they are often described as adaptable, accepting, and open-minded.

The key is to match the core behaviors of the individual to the actual job that they will perform.  Skills can be learned by employees who are willing to put forth the effort, but our personalities and core behaviors are difficult to change.

The more we can learn about existing or potentially new customers and our employees that serve them, the better chance we have for success.  And in the arena of customer service, it really is a “ripple effect”.  Address the items outlined in this research and the results will show up in better customer(and employee) retention.  Better productivity.  And ultimately, an improved bottom line.  I hope this information helps you raise the bar for you and your organization!


“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.

It is what the client or customer gets out of it.” – PETER DRUCKER