North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

February 15, 2011

Board and committee appointments through the prism of customer service

By Teresa Vise
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — Board appointments and development committees for communities such as ours provide wonderful opportunities for leadership and civic growth. These roles are not only important, but critical to how a community moves forward, and appointments need to be taken very seriously. This is not the time for a Cinderella appointment, or a full blown exhibition of the Peter Principle. Real leadership is needed, and strong opinions are welcome. But to quote an anonymous thought, “Action without study is fatal. Study without action is futile.” Once a person has been tapped, volunteered or pushed into a position of leadership, serious reflection tempered with a strong dose of humility is suggested.  

These considerations are important as a brief read of the business headlines can leave you feeling overwhelmed with the challenges of managing an organization, team or running a business. It can seem that sometimes all there is to be found is a bleak and dire view. Take the personal challenge to look at the things that you can control, and one by one, make those changes.  

For example, a big “item of control” is customer service, whether it is your customer service or the customer service of your employees or team. Challenge yourself to take great customer service to heart, lead by example and coach those around you to raise their level of expectation of what great customer service should look like.

But do you know what great customer service looks like? Here are a few steps to ponder to get you on your way.

The first step is to develop what you define as great customer service. Develop your own specific vision of what great looks like working with the customer’s perspective in mind. Creating a vision of customer service taps into your heart and spirit of excellence, and will allow you to uncover embedded concerns and needs that you may have overlooked.   For example, what would happen if you really take the time to make your customer feel like he or she is your most important priority of the day?

It is very important to appreciate the difference between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.  Satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal customers. According to a Gallup Survey (2002) of 36 companies in 21 industries, the difference between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty lies in creating an emotional bond with your customer. How do you do this? Pay attention to your customer contact people. Train them as to how you want them to interact with your customers. According to this same Gallup Survey, customer contact people are four times more important in generating customer loyalty than the product or service itself.

How do you measure customer loyalty? Ask your customers. Were you satisfied? Will you come again? Will you recommend me to someone else? Simple, direct questions will reveal much about how you conduct your business. Be prepared to change how you connect with your customers. Learn what your customers want, and don’t expect that what you did last year will still hold up. Develop a deep understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations. This close connection with your customers will foster an environment where your customer will come to depend on you. And for goodness sake, learn what your competition is offering!  

Lastly, be thoughtful and systematic about any change the  you create. Decide if your change will hold up to your vision, your environment and your strategy.

In today’s competitive environment, you often don’t get a second chance. Make the first one count, and give it your best customer service first. For those assuming leadership roles, for goodness sake, remember who brought you to the dance, and who will take you home. In the spirit of transparency and required ethics, it is important to recognize that the two are not always the same, but both deserve your integrity.  

Remember to take care of your customers, or someone else will.  

You can find additional readings on Teresa’s blog at Teresa works for Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceuticals and supports the Fultondale Chamber of Commerce.  The Fultondale Chamber will meet in March with date TBD.  You can join by calling 337-1629 or email to