"Fundamentally, customer service is a talent and personality trait."
– Kent Lewis, Founder, Anvil Media, Inc.
Anvil Media, Inc. founder Kent Lewis says his most memorable customer service experience as a business owner occurred when he sent two bottles of wine to a new client after the firm jokingly mentioned that Anvil owed them a bottle or two once they signed on. "They were surprised and appreciative," he notes. While good service in general should not come as a surprise to a customer, it is often that unexpected, extra touch that can really make the difference.
Lewis knows a thing or two about creating an outstanding customer service experience. The Portland, Ore.-based company's focus on customer service has increased client retention significantly and is a primary factor in generating referral business.
"Customer service is critical regardless of company size," Lewis allows. But he is quick to add, "That said, smaller businesses typically have a higher risk when it comes to customer service, in that a negative customer experience is more likely to have a meaningful impact on the bottom line."
He also thinks the recession has had an effect on the need for solid customer attention. "Customer service has always been core to our culture and values at Anvil, and it has only increased in importance in a down market," he says. "Service is one of the few ways to differentiate from the competition and is more pronounced in today's economy."
Creating a Customer Service Experience Mind-set
So how do you build and maintain an organization whose employees demonstrate a great service ethic day after day? When hiring, Lewis considers a variety of factors, including an expectation that new hires will be proficient with Microsoft Office, the Internet and social media applications, all central to the type of business services Anvil provides. But he also looks for candidates who are good communicators.
"Fundamentally, customer service is a talent and personality trait," Lewis explains. "And it's not a quality that's easy to teach or learn. As such, we hire people who are inherently good at connecting with and helping others. That way, it's ingrained in our day-to-day culture."
Verbal and written communication skills are the focus of more than 60 percent of the candidate evaluation process at Anvil. "It can be very difficult to determine if someone is going to be good at customer service before hiring, so we typically have finalists take a personality assessment to see how and where they fit best in our company," Lewis explains.
Once on board, it's critical for managers to maintain employees' spirit of good customer service. Anvil acknowledges and rewards superior customer service at staff meetings, in one-on-one meetings and via compensation conversations. During meetings, both management and staff share a specific customer service experience and why they feel each example was remarkable. "We give out gift cards and Employee of the Month awards and bonuses based in part on customer service as measured by our biannual client surveys," Lewis says.
Anvil Media, Inc. is a search engine marketing (SEM) agency specializing in search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) management, search engine marketing public relations (SEM PR), online reputation management (ORM) and social media marketing (SMM) services.