Speed is an essential part of customer service. Unfortunately, business owners and executives often overlook its importance when planning their strategies to attract and retain customers and increase sales. Too often, they focus on catchy slogans and increased publicity instead of focusing on what really matters to their customers.
Speed matters, and there are several reasons for this. We live in the age of technology, which in many cases has dramatically reduced the time it takes us to complete a task. This results in the need for others – especially the companies we do business with – to dramatically reduce the time it takes for them to complete the tasks we demand of them.
You don’t have to look any further than Amazon to understand how speed can drive your business to great success. A few seconds after placing an order with Amazon, you receive a confirmation and a delivery date. When this date arrives, Amazon will contact you again to let you know how many stops the driver still needs to make before your package is delivered. Once your purchase lands on your porch, Amazon sends another alert to let you know it’s arrived.
However, Amazon’s commitment to speed doesn’t end there. If you decide to return the purchase, all you need to do is go to the Amazon site, view your order and hit the “return” button. Almost instantly, Amazon sends you a return code. You then simply return the item to one of the thousands of kiosks and Amazon will notify you, again, within seconds that your purchase has been refunded.
I see three internal barriers to using speed as a competitive advantage. The first is the mindset of procrastinating employees, whether serving internal or external clients. The second is that employees lack the accountability to respond to customer inquiries and complaints. In fact, even if they are empowered to make decisions, they often won’t because they don’t want to run the risk of being reprimanded or fired. So what are they doing? They seek the approval of their bosses for any action they wish to take. In the process, they delay the action and reject the speed.
Policies and procedures also hamper the provision of prompt service. Most policies and procedures are nothing more than “speed bumps”. When employees are limited in their attempts to deal quickly and efficiently with customers, those customers often spend their money elsewhere.
Let me give you an example of fast, efficient and excellent service. A friend had bought a $ 200 bathroom vanity from Menard, but had never used it. Two years later, while shopping at Menard’s, she noticed that the store was still wearing this vanity top. She stopped by customer service, told the clerk she still had a vanity in its original box and still had the receipt. She asked if she could return it and, without hesitation, the employee replied that she could. There was no need to bring the request to the manager or check company policy. The employee handled the situation and Menard’s has a customer for life.
The hours of operation of your business also have an impact on speed. If my drain is clogged or my car needs repair, do I want to wait a week for the problem to be resolved? No; I want it done today. Too often, companies don’t set their schedules with the customer in mind. I recently spoke in Moscow, Russia, a city that values its citizens’ need for speedy service. In order to provide this, Moscow’s multifunctional centers are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
Speed is of great value to your customers. If you want to capitalize on this need, you must remove the obstacles that prevent you from serving with speed. You need to emphasize the speed of your employees and empower them to solve problems and make decisions that will boost your business. I caution you, however, not to sacrifice quality for speed; the two must go hand in hand to serve customers.
In other words, if you want to attract and retain customers, speed will help you do that. The faster you serve them, the faster your sales will increase.
A frequent contributor to Snow Magazine, John Tschohl is the founder and chairman of the Institute for the Quality of Services. He is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on all aspects of customer service and recently published his latest book, “Relentless”.