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Sometimes, Poor Customer Service Starts Right at the Entrepreneur's Desk!

Every entrepreneur or small business CEO I have ever known has always put  "great customer service" at the top of any list of company strengths or company objectives, or both.  Yet, often, this same entrepreneur is doing things, internally, that are subliminally undermining critical aspects of good customer service.  And it usually happens during early growth periods when the small business begins to take off and add more staff.

At the root of this is, typically, the failure of the entrepreneur to understand that most every directive they deliver has the tendency to become policy.  I learned this the hard way.

My first management job was starting and running a subsidiary of a conglomerate (long story for another time). One day I see one of the employees polishing the logo in the reception area.  So I asked him why he was doing it.  He told me that I had given a directive that I didn't want to see so much as a finger print on that logo at any time.  Then I thought back to when the chairman of the board had come into our facility and made an off-handed remark that our sign looked like it needed cleaning. So, the very next day came my directive that I never wanted to see that logo in anything but pristine condition.  Think about it.  I reacted to an off-handed comment and established a new policy.  The guy who was cleaning it, daily, now, was a customer service rep (I guess somebody thought he was least critical - piling another bad decision on the first).  How many calls didn't he take while keeping our logo nice and clean?

Take the case of a young company with a retail store, only a few existing policies and procedures and then one day, somebody forgets to reconcile credit card transactions by a processor's 5PM cutoff time. The founder/CEO goes ballistic, because the company didn't get their bank credit that night, and says, "this takes priority over everything."  Fast forward to several weeks later and here it's nearing 5PM and a customer walks in and the sales clerk is busy making sure the reconciliation gets done, all the while ignoring the customer who walks out.  And then tells three other people about the shoddy service at XYZ Corp...you get the picture.

Or, to gain more efficiency with a small staff, the entrepreneur installs an automated answering system, so that no one is tied up just answering telephones. But then, a prospect or customer's first impression is a stock message that is either too "short and sweet" or gives the caller 237 options to the point where many give up. And what has the small business, that should be known for its personal service, done?  It has started to act like a faceless Big Company, who thinks customer service is an overhead function that is best easily outsourced! All to fix one problem and create another worse one.

Whatever policy decisions that you make, they should always be made with your customer in mind.  Don't leave this up to employee interpretation.  Or, off-the-cuff remarks that become ugly policy.  And I'll bet, in your small business today are some really dumb policies that have come into being that might even be turning off customers. And employees know it even if you don't!  So about once a quarter make it a point to have an informal company function like a pizza lunch and play the game - "what's our dumbest policy, one that turns off customers."  You'll be surprised at what you'll find - and mostly from your own hand - that need to be changed to better serve customers.

Know the weight of your words inside your own company. Make sure directives don't accidentally become policies that negatively impact customer service.

The Entrepreneur's Yoda knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!  

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