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Why An Innovative Management System Is Increasing Sales For Poole Resources, Inc.

Changing the direction of a large company is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier. So much mass and momentum have been moving in one direction for so long, that it takes significant and sustained effort to nudge even the smallest alteration in direction. Yet, companies continue to try, frequently failing at their attempt.

If you compare your company's customer service vision statement to the actual reality of employee performance, think you'd find a gap? For many companies, this gap between goal and reality is very large.

Companies sink millions of training dollars into customer service only to see it wasted from lack of management follow-up. Barbara Poole, founder of the consulting and training company Poole Resources, Inc., is closing this gap with an innovative management system called Virtual Coach™.

"A training CD might teach employees new skills and there's an inference that their behavior will change because they learned something new, but we don't really know that," explains Poole. "But if you provide the combination of learning, evaluation and immediate coaching to strengthen behavior, you have closed the gap."

Coaching System Helps To Increase Sales
Virtual Coach™ begins by providing an employee a videotaped customer service training session that the individual watches at his or her own pace, on his or her own schedule. Immediately after completion, the employee is asked to dial a special telephone number and undergo an automated electronic interactive voice response interview.

During the interview, the worker is asked a series of questions about what he or she just learned and the employee's responses are recorded and shared via fax or company Intranet with the employee's immediate supervisor. Any answers that reveal a lack of under standing come back to the coach with a detailed analysis and coaching advice that easily enables the supervisor to get the employee up to speed.

"All our programs, not just the Virtual Coach™, have been able to track a 5 to 30 percent increase in sales within the first year of being installed," says Poole. "The wide range between 5 and 30 percent is based solely on how well the clients manage the program after we've worked with them."

Use Employee Suggestions To Create A Customer Service Mindset
Poole Resources is based in Ridgefield, Conn., and specializes in improving revenue for companies through consulting and training in the areas of customer service, sales and operational systems. Founded in 1992, Poole has assisted more than 100 blue-chip clients such as Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, May Department Stores, AT&T and Manufacturer's Hanover.

Poole recommends that supervisors trying to create a customer service mindset first listen to frontline and field employee suggestions. "Don't be so arrogant to believe that you can develop customer service policies in the corporate office without listening to people who are dealing with the customers," she advises.

Next, Poole says upper management should develop a system that holds field or departmental management accountable for how their employees are performing for their customers.

Finally, show all employees - whether they work on the loading dock or write code for computers - exactly how their performance ties into the overall results of the company.

"Employees can easily get 'the Dilbert mentality' of being locked in their cubicles, not necessarily connecting with the rest of the company," says Poole. "Getting them to understand that everything they do has a positive or negative effect on revenue is a very, very vital point."

Once your department has a service mindset, Poole says it can then go about astonishing customers through the following five techniques:

Astonish Customers With Five Techniques

  1. Put the customer first. "It's a great time to be a customer," says Poole. "If customers don't want to buy from you they can always find what they're looking for at another place that is probably a lot like yours. If you think about it, there's only one good reason why anyone would do business with you in the first place: good service."
  2. Understand the human aspects of doing business. "Research says 70 percent of defecting customers don't frequent a business again because they don't like how they were treated. Only 15 percent left for price and 15 percent left for quality. The problem is that customer service is plastered everywhere on mission statements and plaques, but actual results come down to what leadership values."
  3. Leaders must "walk the talk." "When you talk out of one side of your mouth about providing great customer service, but then use the other side of your mouth to invent 48 rules that obstruct the employee, nothing improves."
  4. Raise your standards. "Meeting minimal expectations is dangerous. I think the phrase 'satisfied customer' is a danger sign because that means nothing more than the absence of complaints. In order to truly have a loyal customer base you have to build trust through your performance day in and day out."
  5. Empower workers. "Regardless of position level, every employee who works with customers needs to have a level of autonomy because 90 percent of service is delivered outside the guidance of management."

Measure Performance To Verify Improvement
Once the service mindset and culture are in place, you need to measure performance to verify that it continually improves. When Poole helps a client, she often takes preand post-program measurements so her improvement can be quantified. Items measured can include average transaction size, number and type of customer complaints, sales increases, customer counts, customer survey scores and focus group comments.

"What you're really trying to do is develop your customer service and training plan parallel to your overall business plan," explains Poole. "Establish business plan targets and identify the specific customer service initiatives that support that plan. Frequent measurement turns your activities into an ongoing process rather than a onetime event."

Poole's own commitment to customer service was once tested after signing a contract to develop a customer service program for a large company. The firm had two diverse businesses - men's and women's apparel - and it soon became apparent that despite the contract, two separate programs would be needed to meet objectives.

"Because our hearts were in it, we developed a duplicate program for the first program that would look and sound like the second business," says Poole. "So the client received two programs when they had actually contracted for one. But they realized the extent of the additional work, the fact that we had put ourselves into the process and I think thats a mirror of good customer service. When you touch the customer with a relationship, something beyond the routine, it lets them know that you care."

Barbara Poole can be reached at Poole Resources, Inc., at (203) 894-8405.

Poole Resources Gives Four Tips To Improving Service
Barbara Poole, president of Poole Resources, Inc., a consulling and training company located in Ridgefield, Conn., offers the following advice to supervisors looking to improve customer service in their companies.

  1. Watch the people as much as the numbers. "People are in business to make numbers and they work to make them everyday. But the way that people are managed by the numbers often tears down selfesteem or their ability to interact effectively with customers."
  2. Lead by example. Poole suggests that supervisors treat their employee requests as urgently as they treat customer requests because employees tend to perform only as well as they are treated.
  3. Take ownership of customer service programs. Poole says that companies attain a 5 to 30 percent increase from her programs. Results can be tracked to the exact ratio of how much a supervisor takes ownership of the service enhancing processes. Those who take the most ownership of the process are the ones who generate the best results.
  4. Notice the gap before ft gets bigger. Poole's experience reveals that many companies are quick to extol their customer service vision but slow to compare it to their actual performance. Until you notice the gap between your vision and reality, you'll provide lip service rather than customer service.
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