No, I am not referring to the classic Johnny Cash song that I often heard my father play in my youth. Although perhaps a few lines of the lyrics are fitting.
No doubt the pandemic crisis and social unrest have shaken many of our companies, our work colleagues, and ourselves to the core. We have had our hands full trying to address challenges amid massive uncertainty. A friend and I were recently lamenting how customer service appears to be at an all-time low. We could cite several examples of carefree and lacking customer service. Seemingly, it is OK to explain away poor service and quality “because of COVID”. Understandably, our companies are challenged to perform. As leaders, we have likely taken our eye off the basics while dealing with the onslaught of uncertainty.
So now it is time to revisit the basics and to reexamine how well you are taking care of your customers. It is time to look at how your key processes are performing. It is time to walk the line.
Start with a visit, more likely a virtual visit, to your key customers. Focus on the customers who represent 80% of your revenues. This will likely be 20% of your customer base. Then, have a conversation and ask them:
- How have you been doing? Personally? As a company?
- How does business look over the next few months? The next year?
- What problems is your business trying to solve?
Make no assumptions. Just have a deep conversation. Take good notes. If possible, talk not only to your customer’s key contact but also their front-line employees who receive your product.
With these insights in hand, talk with your team in reverse order of how your products are made. Start with the employees who the last points of customer contact. For example, this is likely product delivery/warehouse, customer service, and invoicing. Have similar conversations:
- How are you and your family doing?
- How do you think we are doing as a company?
- What are you concerned about in the upcoming months? Excited about?
- What problems do we need to solve?
Now, go to the process step before these final points of contact. Visit the production line and office support roles. Have the same conversation. Then the next process step. And keep going until you have walked to the first point of customer contact. Perhaps it is the sales team.
For each interaction, listen intently and take good notes. Talk little and try not to defend. Most certainly follow-up with any urgent concerns or questions that are not easily answered during the discussions.
You now have a long list of insights. I expect that you will find many items that are a return to the basics of good customer service. You will learn about gaps in performance. I also guarantee you will learn new ways of doing business for the post-pandemic world. New and innovative ways to serve at higher levels. Embrace the knowledge you gain to help your company recover more quickly and find new innovations in service.
And most importantly, identify three to five things you will improve. This cannot be an exercise that is only lip service, rather noticeable change for the better. Your employees and customers will appreciate it. They will remember how you walked the line.