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During our recent trip to the Dominican Republic I was impressed with the level of customer service at the resort in which we stayed. The food was spectacular and the drinks flowed freely. Meandering into one of the beachside bars at 7:00 am on a Sunday morning I found myself alone and I was curious as to what time they began serving alcohol. I suspected the party had gone into the wee hours the night before and that some down time was in order for  the staff. “At what time can I get a beer?” I asked.  To my surprise the bartender poured me a beer and uttered the phrase we Canadians had come to love, “All inclusive, No problem.” The definition of customer service was qualified in four words, “all inclusive, no problem”. He was there to look after my needs 24/7.

I have always prided myself on being there for my clients. If they asked my hours of operation I would tell them 24/7. When I would answer the phone after typical business hours I would respond to the question “What are you still doing there?’ with my favourite response, “Just waiting for your call” For years we have been taught that we must be there for our clients. I hear that all the time. “I want to be there for my clients,” we say. But what does ‘be there’ mean? Does ‘be there’ mean we are available 24 hours 7 days a week for our clients? Does it mean that we sacrifice? Does it mean missing soccer games, tee ball games, and piano recitals?

For many that is exactly what it means. Many of us equate access with service. We have been trained for years that access is the primary vehicle of customer service. We feel we need to “be there” for our clients. We grant them access to our lives whenever they want it. They can and will take over our business if we let them.

I want to share with you a new concept. Access has nothing to do with customer service.

There are many professionals we do business with on a regular basis who are less than accessible. A skilled doctor cannot be contacted via phone and will not respond within minutes. A skilled doctor is busy with other patients and will get back to the caller during the course of the day. A professional attorney may be in court or in conference or taking a deposition. We don’t expect them to return our call immediately. I would certainly question the ability of these two professional if they could get back to me right away. That would tell me they are not very busy. It would cause me to question their capabilities.

Here are a few steps to help you clearly separate access from customer service:

Step 1: Set Boundaries.

Your clients will respect you if you set specific boundaries. Set the boundaries on your time away. Take out the days off, the family activities, and the time with your spouse, the time for you. You must plan that process before the week begins. The most effective way to set boundaries is work off a set schedule. A set schedule allows you to create each week to be exactly the same as the week before. Create specific boundaries for your client by taking your home phone number off your business card. Other professionals don’t give out their home number. Turn your cell phone and pager off at specific times each evening. Set boundaries for your clients to follow regarding your time and time with your family.

Step 2: Treat everything as an appointment.

Once you have set boundaries treat everything as an appointment. Your time with your children and spouse are the most important appointments you have. Don’t infringe on your family time. Your appointments to work out, to read, to relax are your time; don’t break those appointments. You also have appointments in your workday. You have appointments to prospect and lead follow-up. These will have a tendency to get pushed out of the way by clients. If you allow that to happen you will see a drop in business in 90 days. If you miss those appointments today the effect is not felt for 90 days when you have no closings. It’s easy to let other things move into those prospecting and lead follow up appointment slots. You have to fight the urge to take care of clients in those times.

Step 3: Set specific times to return calls.

Most of the calls we get are not important. They are often from someone trying to give us what they deem as urgent. Rarely must these calls be handled immediately. Most calls can wait a few hours. Set specific times when you return calls. I would suggest once in late morning and once toward the end of the day. Tell people you are in appointments and you will be retuning calls at those specific times. You need to separate the concept of access from customer service. Customer service is about getting the job done well. The client does not really care about your access. They care about a job done well. Become respected like your doctor, dentist, or attorney. Limit the instant access you grant to people. Don’t be fooled by the old access model of customer service. Who really needs a beer at 7:00 am on a Sunday morning?

We welcome your comments.