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What is Excellent Customer Service?

Open sign hanging on the front door of a store

Customer service must be timely, targeted, and delivered in a professional and courteous manner. Paul McKinney in "What is customer service?" (2016) describes customer service as a continuous process in which attention should be given to the customer’s needs before, during, and after services are rendered. At NIH, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) utilizes a Technical Team approach to partner with our customers. The Team meets with customers to proactively assess their needs before an official request for services. Then we assign the appropriate subject matter expert to take the lead on developing customized solutions for the customer. After services are rendered, EDI follows up with the customer through avenues such as our Customer Service Survey, in-person meetings, personal calls and e-mail.

EDI’s goal is to be a model for outstanding customer service, understanding our customers’ goals and challenges, delivering innovative solutions to support and accommodate them, establishing customer service standards, and sharing best practices and lessons learned from our own experiences.

In today’s fast-paced world of technology, inventions, and theories, "customer service" can often be interpreted in multiple ways but the commonality of all of the perceptions are the actions taken by the service provider to keep the customer happy, engaged, and satisfied to some degree. It’s imperative to have the social skills relative to listening, interpreting, and delivering what is expected from customers. People in general have a need to be heard and understood. When we listen, we find that there are a lot of opportunities to achieve greater clarity, appreciation, and respect. These include clarification for the service provider about the challenges facing a customer and likewise for the customer about the solutions available. Appreciation for the simplicity or the complexity of the customer needs. Mutual respect between the customer and the service provider, assuming the best intentions and understanding that both are working together to find the best solutions possible.

Efficiency is an important factor, too. Efficient customer service is respecting the time and attention needed to provide our service. It means being diligent when setting timeframes and, therefore, ensuring that solutions are delivered on time. It means keeping constant, honest, open communication with customers.

Too often a customer is unhappy because they are given a cookie cutter approach. Our service should not be one-size-fits-all. Sure, sometimes the service we provide a customer isn’t always a great fit for the specific needs of the customer. Sometimes it needs a bit more tailoring and that’s okay. We rely on our ability to lay out a wide range of options to help us customize the best available EEO and diversity and inclusion solutions. Ultimately, there should be room for adjustment or tailoring, and if that isn’t possible, then upfront communication with the customer along with alternative options. The emphasis, here, is that we must show that we have explored all options so the customer knows and feels that we have tried to meet their needs. For the customer, there is nothing more frustrating than to reach the end of a service only to find out that it didn’t actually meet their real needs. Not necessarily because we, as the service provider, failed to deliver but because what they really needed was not an option in the first place and that wasn’t communicated.

Customer service is key to the success of our organization. We must consistently remain attentive to its shifting cultural climate and how our work factors in. If the work culture is subject to supply-and-demand nature of government and business, then excellent customer service helps to nurture and facilitate the organizational bottom line. More importantly, a great equity, diversity, and inclusion customer service model is a sign that such principles are, at least, at work within the organization we serve.

More blog posts to come from the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion on Excellent Customer Service. You can also visit our page under the Consulting tab on this site.

Sources to check out regarding this topic:

  1. McKinney, Paul. “What is Customer Service?” Chapter 5, Lesson 8. Web. 18. July 2016.
  2. Springer, Tom. “What it Takes to Win with Customer Experience” Web. 21. April 2016.
  3. Laufer, Deanna. “Customer Experience Strategy Best Practices” Web. 21. April 2016.
  4. Tribble Sarah Jane. “Cleveland Clinic strategy, culture shift push for better patient care” Web. 21. April 2016.