Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - September 5, 2007

Who Sets Your Standards for Customer Service?

I've talked before about the obsession some financial institutions -- or individual employees in those organizations -- have with their competition. As I travel across the country teaching better credit practices, coaching relationship development, and consulting on policy and process, I often encounter employees and managers who are narrowly focused on matching what the competition does.

When it comes to serving your customers, however, who sets their expectations? Who determines how quickly you should respond, how you should communicate with customers, how your products and services should be delivered to them?

Hint: it isn't your direct competition. It is your customers' local merchants, dry cleaners and restaurants and hardware stores. It is their online resources, where they order books and DVDs and garden tools.

When your customers leave you a voice mail with a question, they aren't comparing your response time to other lenders. They are comparing it to other service providers, in other industries.

When they complete an application or open an account, they aren't complaining because it is harder to do with you than it is with your competition. They are frustrated because it is harder than similar processes at any of a variety of merchants they deal with.

And when they can communicate by phone, e-mail, web site, and mail, whatever they prefer, with many other providers, they aren't going to be happy when you offer them only one way to reach you.

Fortunately, it is easy to do a little research on the standards these "non-competitors" are setting for your service. For the next week, pay close attention to your interactions with product and service providers in your personal life. Every time you place an order, make a complaint, or request a repair, pay close attention to the response of the merchant involved, whether on the phone, online, or in person. Then ask yourself these questions:

  1. What did I like about the way they handled my order or request? What could we apply from that to our own operations, to provide better service to our customers?
  2. What could they have done better, where did they fall short? Are we making the same mistakes?

Don't let all the attention you're paying to your direct competition blind you to the impact of non-competitors on customers' expectations. Learn from your own experience outside your organization, with everyday merchants and service providers, and you're on your way to building a competitive edge in customer service.