By Russ Levanway, CEO
Client vs. Customer
The last several weeks have been rough at the TekTegrity Help Desk – the usual summer vacation schedule has been made even more challenging due to broken legs, sudden moves, and summer colds. These things can put a strain on client service in the interim, but don’t speak to the long-term attitude or approach we have to client service as a whole. As a company in the business of helping clients, we take our approach to client service seriously and we’re constantly revisiting and refining our client service philosophy. We know that if we are intentional about nurturing a culture that emphasizes great client service, we’ll get it mostly right, most of the time.
For starters, we call it client service instead of customer service. The distinction is subtle but important: customers are those who purchase our goods and/or service, while clients are those we work for and with; one arrangement is based on an exchange while the other is based on a relationship.
As part of our ongoing commitment to developing our client service methods, we put the question to our spring Client Advisory group: What is the greatest bit of business advice you’ve received about client service?
This is what we heard back:
- Respond quickly and own the solution.
- The client comes second. If your staff comes first, they will take care of the clients.
- Smile while on the phone.
- The customer is always right.
- If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.
- Listen to the client and follow through.
- Use your heart.
- Prompt responsiveness.
- No matter how many times you’ve answered the phone, it’s the first time the client has heard it.
- People want to be heard. Acknowledge that you hear them.
- Solve the problem first, figure out later who/what is to blame and fix it.
- Listen to understand, not to answer.
- People only report problems to those they believe can help.
When I first read through these responses, I identified two different, but related, themes that have been helpful in TekTegrity’s pursuit of client satisfaction.
Theme #1: Clients come second. Your team comes first.
This piece of advice reverberated through many other responses: If your team comes first, they will take care of the clients.
Focusing first on employee wellness is counterintuitive to the overused statement that “The customer is always right.” Instead of thinking in terms of who’s always right or wrong, we’ve learned to think of client service in light of the Golden Rule. If we provide our employees with the respect, value, and support they deserve, they will be passionate about their work and, in turn, provide respect, value, and support to their clients; they will be inspired to listen, focus on and respond quickly to clients. Changing this sequence, though counterintuitive, has become a cornerstone of our client service philosophy.
Theme #2: Every client is your only client.
Several of the answers we received from our Client Advisory Board had to do with tone and attitude in approaching client issues. In an IT context, a technician may solve his or her client’s problem, but the experience can only be positive if the client feels heard and felt.
At TekTegrity, we’re constantly fixing and doing, fixing and doing. It’s easy to become focused on efficiency rather than the client’s experience, but it is of constant importance. Clients only call when they need something. They believe we can help them. As far as they’re concerned, their problem is our only concern at the moment. It’s immaterial and irrelevant to them, practically speaking, that the technician they’re speaking with may have 15 other clients and issues at that moment. For a technician to say, “I’m sorry, I’ve been really busy with other clients, so I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to get to your issue yet” does nothing to improve the client’s experience.
So we ask ourselves: How can we ensure that employees remain present with clients consistently, long-term? The answer we’ve found is to cultivate a culture of support and safety for employees. (See: Theme #1.) When employees feel seen, heard and cared for, they’re better equipped to serve each client as though he or she is the only client. And when clients feel supported, we’re closer than ever to fulfilling the TekTegrity mission: Productivity enhanced, lives enriched.