SI Review: November 2011

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Straight Talk from the Customer

Taking care of business

Customer service is easy when you focus on the client

By Greg Muccio

Taking care of the customer is becoming a lost art these days, as many companies are so focused on making the sale or getting more business that they lose sight of what’s important to their existing customers.

Southwest Airlines, though, is legendary for its customer service. It gets ingrained from day one, beginning with new-hire orientation. In fact, several years ago, Colleen Barrett, now president emeritus, clarified our mission: “We are in the customer service business; we just happen to fly planes.”

Customer service is part of the performance appraisal process for all employees. (We even capitalize the “C” in Customer in all of our communication.)

Accordingly, I’ve found my own expectation level for others’ customer service has grown with my tenure here, whether it’s staff at a restaurant, my cable provider or my staffing provider.

My (Staffing) Expectations

There are three simple core requirements I have of my staffing vendor relationships; they are probably what a lot of other CW managers need as well:

  • A quality candidate who matches what we asked for — not just close to it. We want a match in skills and cultural fit.
  • Quick results. I turn to a staffing provider because I am under the impression that you have candidates in your pipeline ready to work.
  • Reasonable cost. You don’t have to be the cheapest, but price like you want me to use you again and again.

There are many vendors that we will never use again because they did not deliver on those core requirements. Why would I give them more business and expand our relationship when they can’t get the simple stuff right?

Little things matter. I notice when someone pays attention to the little things. Like when my server at a restaurant gets me a new drink without me asking for more. Or when a business offers me something because they know they inconvenienced me or didn’t deliver the way they were supposed to. Not only are those places that I will be a repeat Customer of, but I am going to tell others as well. In my staffing vendor relationships, the little things matter, too.

Communicate. Let me know the status of a req even if there’s nothing new to report. I have to answer to someone as well and I would prefer that they didn’t ask me status or tell me that something went wrong. You should always be first in informing me about problems, delays or successes. If you can’t do something (like fill a particular skill set), tell me and then give me a referral to someone who can. I will remember that and come back to you; I won’t if you don’t do what you said you could.

Be proactive. Anticipate problems and provide solutions before they ever happen. Look at what you are doing and ask yourself “does this make it better for my customer?”

For me

Really listen. Listen to what I am saying, where we are in the process, how we do business and what is important to us. Don’t try to sell me something I already said I don’t need.

I had a refreshing call from an MSP provider a few weeks ago. The rep listened to where we were in the process and picked up on what was important to me. In closing, he asked if he could send me some information about other services they provide that could be beneficial down the road as we move forward with our program. However, he said he wouldn’t send me information on their MSP, because they couldn’t really “add enough value” to what we were already doing. Wow! I am not sure if we will need their other services, but if we do, he will be on the short list I call.

Empower your representative. If you are going to have someone call on me or manage my account, give them the ability and authority to make decisions. Don’t make me feel like I am buying a car as I wait for him or her to “check with the manager.”

I may have high expectations, but it is really simple to meet them. I will end this with one final thought: Are you a staffing provider? Or are you in the customer service business and just happen to provide staffing?

Greg Muccio is a team leader in the people department at Southwest Airlines.

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