All customers expect great service, regardless of their background. What's more, in an increasingly multicultural world companies need to cater to the many different needs, wants, and expectations of today's increasingly diverse customers. Robert W. Lucas, author of Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures, says the bottom line is to treat each customer as an individual, while keeping in mind any cultural norms that might impact their expectations without falling into the trap of stereotyping.
In a recent interview with 1to1 Magazine, Lucas shared insight on what companies need to do to satisfy each and every one of their customers, including listening.
Customers expect great service. How do cultural differences impact customer expectations, and how should organizations address them?
Often people's expectations are based on their values-their personal and societal beliefs-which make it important to have a basic understanding of how different groups of people interpret time, gender, age, etc. I encourage [business owners] to become knowledgeable about the world and, without stereotyping, keep a person's cultural background in their minds. They should also educate their staff.
The biggest challenge is recognizing that people might be part of a group, but they are also individuals who have unique expectations, wants, and needs. I always encourage companies to look beyond a customer's culture and realize that he is a person who should be treated on a one-to-one basis.
What are the main issues that organizations and customer-facing employees should keep in mind when dealing with clients from different cultures?
All people are unique and it is thus imperative that when you are dealing with someone, you do not take a blanket approach. No matter what culture an individual is coming from, he needs to be treated on an individual level. Companies need to understand that while there might be some generalities based on a person's group or culture, and their needs, wants, and expectations might be driven by that background to a certain extent, they ultimately have to deal with this individual person, focus on him and listen to him.
How has the economic downturn impacted customer service and expectations? What are the factors influencing customer service today?
In our society, and most other cultures, service has typically been a defining [matter] when dealing with an organization and bad service has traditionally been a deal-breaker for many customers. Right now, because of the [unfavorable] economic environment, some customers may be willing to tolerate a lower level of service in exchange for lower prices or a lower-quality product as long as it meets their basic needs. However, my perception is that once the economy turns around, the same people who were tolerant when an organization was not service-oriented and didn't meet all their needs and expectations will remember and look for an alternative.
Even today, saving [customers] a dollar is not likely to make up for really bad service.
You emphasize the importance of building a good rapport with customers. How should companies develop such a rapport?
Customers are people first. It's crucial for service providers to exhibit strong interpersonal relationship skills. They have to be able to listen effectively and ask the right questions. Some people find this challenging.
Part of listening is also looking at nonverbal responses and being able to interpret them appropriately. Listening and questioning skills, feedback skills, verbal and nonverbal communication skills are all key for people to establish a good rapport with customers. Listening is a skill and you cannot assume that people know how to do it unless you train them. One of the mistakes is taking for granted that anyone should be able to listen. They can hear, but listening means interpreting what they can hear properly and reacting appropriately. You need to teach people the difference between hearing and listening and then teach them how to go about it, let them practice, give them feedback on their listening skills, and hold them accountable for listening. It all boils down to providing training so that they know what is expected of them.
Moreover, attitude plays a major role. People have to first like their job and second like people. I have heard many times that you can hire someone and teach him the skills, but you cannot give him a personality. You cannot hire an introvert and expect him to function well in an extrovert's position.
Breakdowns in service happen. What are your tips to recover from this? What do customers expect companies to do?
I teach people a process and it starts with apologize, apologize, and apologize, even if it's not your or the organization's fault. Apologize for the inconvenience and the breakdown in service and then figure out what caused the problem, which goes back to the importance of active listening.
The key is also for employees to be empowered to make basic decisions [to address the situation] and give the customer options for resolving the problem. That puts the customer back in charge, gives them control of the situation, something that most people respond positively to.