Silence Costs You in Customer Service
A recent study by VitalSmarts found that silence is killing customer service. We asked subjects how often they witnesses a fellow employee underserving, or even abusing, a customer. Then we asked: What happens next? Does someone in your organization speak up and address the problem with that employee?
I was thinking of this study as I boarded a discount airline flight. I paid an extra $50 for a “premium” seat, selected palatial 11C with four inches of extra legroom, and pulled the lever, anticipating being lavished with five degrees of recline. Instead, I dropped fully backward into the lap of the man behind me. As the flight attendant passed me she said, “Oh yeah, that seat’s been busted for a long time.” No apology. No offer to find me another seat or make up for it in some other way. Rather, I suffered the torture of zero recline for the next two hours.
How many broken seats undermine service in your organization? And how long do the problems persist because those who witness them say or do nothing?
Our study showed that each employee who witnesses bad customer service but fails to speak up costs the company an average of $54,511 per year. We also found that organizations can recoup those costs by creating a culture where employees feel empowered to speak up and confront incidents of poor service — even if it’s up the chain of command!
Shockingly, only 7 percent of employees can be counted on to speak up when witnessing an incident of poor customer service, despite the fact that 66 percent of us say we're capable of solving the customer’s problem.
Additionally, our study revealed the following:
- A typical employee witnesses 19 poor customer service incidents per year.
- Together, those incidents result in a 17 percent drop in revenue annually per customer.
- Poor service negatively impacts how much a customer spends with a company by 50 percent or more. This is the case for 75 percent of business-to-consumer customers and 42 percent of business-to-business customers.
We’re facing a "crisis of silence" in the corporate world; people simply don’t hold others accountable for their actions. Our research over the years shows how silence affects costs, quality, engagement, productivity, safety, and now customer service. The key to creating distinguishing customer service is to create a culture where anyone can speak up to anyone about their ability to serve the customer.
Leaders must set the example. They must make it safe for people to hold these uncomfortable conversations. Otherwise employees tend to assume leaders’ egos are of higher value than the company mission.
Here are a few tips for respectfully and effectively speaking up:
- Talk face-to-face. If possible, speak to them in person and privately. Assume the best of others. It’s possible the person is unaware of what they’re doing. Begin the conversation as a curious friend.
- Talk tentatively. Begin to describe the problem with, “I’m not sure you intended this . . .” or “I’m not sure you’re aware of this . . .”
- Start with facts. Not only are conclusions possibly wrong, but they also create defensiveness.
- Share the facts first. Say something like, “When that customer said they disagreed with you, you said . . .”
- Ask for others’ views. Ask if they saw the issue differently. “Is that what you intended to say?”
- Use equal treatment. This applies to everyone, regardless of title or position. People deserve to be treated with respect.
Using some of these powerful tactics and skills can help you create a culture that truly puts the customer first and ends the crisis of silence.
Joseph Grenny is the co-chairman and co-founder of VitalSmarts, a provider of corporate training and leadership development.