I can vividly recall sitting in a large auditorium listening to Rick Taylor, Konica Minolta’s CEO, enthusiastically stress the importance of putting the customer first. At the time, I was a principal of a company that represented multiple brands, but his words struck me.
“It works or it walks” resonated then, as it does now. This bottom-line approach speaks to their unrivaled and unwavering dedication to customer satisfaction.
His mindset was to emulate other great brands that were known for an unparalleled customer experience. I listened closely as he articulated and mirrored my personal philosophies when it came to maintaining and retaining long term, healthy business relationships. The inherent parallels in our philosophies influenced and encouraged me to lead with Konica Minolta products in all of my sales efforts moving forward.
A few years later, with our majority shareholder retirement-bound, it became evident that it was time to find the best fit for the sale of our company. At this moment, Meridian Imaging Solutions was an employee-owned small business that had seen steady organic growth. We were ultimately acquired by Konica Minolta and enjoyed a harmonious transition due to our shared values in customer experience, which include:
- Customer centric - This is our No. 1 core value
- Open and honest
- Inclusive and collaborative
Acting with Courtesy to Improve Customer Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic is hurting a great number of businesses. Uncertainty can lead to stress and rising stress can have detrimental effects on employees' service capabilities. Unmanaged stress can erode customer empathy and damage your brands reputation for superior customer service and experience.
So why do I bring this up?
My daughter recently visited a retailer to make a return that had historically earned a reputation for inflexible customer service. She lacked confidence that the experience would go her way since she didn’t have the receipt. To make matters worse, she was outside their return window due to COVID-related closures.
To my daughter's surprise, she was immediately warmly greeted and asked how she could be helped. Without the receipt, policies prohibited a full refund, but the sales associate worked with her to solve the issue. The sales representative suggested to check her email as she may have had the receipt emailed to her. She patiently waited for my daughter to search for a record that was nearly a year old, and once she located it, issued her a full refund.
The helpfulness of this employee had a profound impact on my daughter’s perception of the company, to the extent that she was compelled to shop. The sales associate that helped my daughter was not an outlier but the norm. Other sales associates in the store were outgoing and helpful. The retailer who was once defined for their poor customer experience was now defining their pandemic response through investing back into their customer service efforts, whereas the majority of businesses’ natural responses have been to scale back.
She was wowed.
She in turn became a brand advocate for the company and shared her experience with friends and family. This powerful word of mouth advertising will influence others to support the business moving forward.
Creating a Culture of Courtesy
As a leader in the IT industry, you’ll want to create a lasting culture of courtesy inside your organization to promote strong customer relationships and experiences. As disruptions continue and remote workforces become more prevalent, it is becoming harder to maintain business as usual. This can cause business operations to slow down and potentially impact customer service.
As customer experience potentially diminishes, it becomes even more essential to have a courtesy culture in place to combat and smooth over any customer service inefficiencies. It’s much easier to get frustrated at a situation rather than being frustrated at the individual who is courteously helping you through it. Here are some examples of how to implement a culture of civility within an organization.
- Elevate Recognition of Customer Success - When your customer experiences success, recognize it and share their achievements. During these trying times, it's important that your customers feel tangible positive progress. By sharing your customers' wins both on social media and amongst other employees within your organization, you are propelling positive sentiment and promoting and strengthening customer relationships.
- Increase Level of Flexibility - It is important to understand that business operations and communication may be altered during these challenging times of remote work. Deadlines and payments may be late but instead of looking at this as a painful byproduct of the pandemic, view it as a silver lining opportunity to demonstrate your company's flexibility and long-term commitment to handling customer relationships with civility.
- Create an Emotional Connection with Your Customers - We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s not what you say; it's how you say it.” The best customer experience is achieved through communicating with customers with courtesy and with an emotional appeal. There is no better time to appeal to your customers emotions than during a time of heightened stress. Now is the time to connect with your customers as people, rather than purely as a financial based business partnership.
- Capture Customer Feedback in Real Time - A good way to implement civility into an organization's customer service is by capturing customer feedback in real time. This allows organizations to check in with customers via live chat, emails, or other customer experience tools to ensure they are receiving the smoothest customer service possible.
Bolster Your Businesses Customer Experience with Added Civility
My daughter’s story reinforced my belief that we have to go above and beyond to do right by our customer – even on the occasions where it may cost us. I am encouraged that we will get through this if we maintain this basic approach.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created barriers to obtaining a smooth customer experience. However, challenges can create opportunities. This story should remind you that while everyone is stressed during these challenging times, as a business leader, it is your job to mitigate the stress of your customers and the simplest way to do this is with a conscious and consistent injection of courtesy. Added civility these days can create a lasting impression – and possibly even create lifelong loyal customers.
Written by Juliana McKee, Vice President of Sales, Meridian Imaging Solutions, a Konica Minolta Company.