How do we make sure the customer really is the boss?
The Francis Report into the conduct of the Mid Staffordshire Foundation NHS Trust towards its patients was a shocking indictment of customer service at its worst, albeit in the form of patient care.
Robert Francis QC said people had entered Stafford Hospital with the expectation of being well cared for and treated. Yet, many suffered horrific experiences that will haunt them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives.
Hopefully, none of us will ever be on the receiving end of this type of customer service – I work with a number of NHS hospital Trusts and know Stafford is not the rule – but it is something from which we in business can take lessons.
So, what do we need to do?
1. Make Good Customer Service a Must
Customer service is obviously a theme of great interest for managers and business owners. Indeed, for SME managers and business owners, it could be said that customer service is essential – good customer service that is!
Giving good customer service should be something we all do every day. However, the reality is that this isn’t the case and whilst we moan about customer service provided by our personal suppliers, we frequently forget to apply the remedies in our own business! This was one of the reasons behind the demise of Comet– customers needed a business to go that extra mile.
So why does customer service take such a backseat? In short because business managers are so busy they often fail to grasp the fundamentals of why they are in business in the first place, something we pay particular attention to at Market Echoes.
2. Understand the Importance of the Customer
When I work with clients I try to get consensus as to what is a customer and what is service, hence customer service. There are all sorts of views but consensus has to be the customer is someone who buys from us and service is something that either encourages or discourages retention and recommendation. Therefore, customer service could be another way of recruiting customers and developing relationships.
Customer service needs some key foundations. Let’s start with the 24/7 call centre. There are good examples of these such as First Direct but others which do not deliver what they promise. The insomniacs amongst might try to call at 2am with the hope that you’ll get through straightaway. Do you find that the wait is probably longer than if you telephoned during peak hours? Why? Although, companies promote their 24/7 call centres, the reality is they so reduce staff numbers that there is hardly anybody left to take the calls. By 3am you might get through to a personable and helpful operative, but by that time the real essence of customer service has actually been lost.
And back to our hospitals. Visit almost any major NHS hospital in England and what do you see on your way into hospital when already you might be a little nervous? A line of smokers in pyjamas creating that grey and very unhealthy haze as you navigate your way to reception. The moment has been lost. These examples demonstrate that foundations need to be in place before your personal customer service has any chance of kicking in and succeeding.
3. Develop Customer Relationships
Service levels need to reflect the nature of the customer relationship. To begin with it is all about delivering polite, helpful and knowledgeable service but as we progress through the different stages of the relationship, our service needs to reflect this by recognising the relationship we have with our customers, remembering what they have purchased and where possible addressing them by name. In 2011, People1st,published a report revealing that 65% of businesses stated that their employees lacked necessary customer service skills.
An example of the type of customer service we should all be offering is that which I have experienced in the Netherlands. I’ve stayed in the same hotel, for the last ten years and when I arrive they ask for my signature, nothing else. The key card is waiting for me in a separate box, the room is one they know I like and the transaction takes about 25 seconds. It’s always proceeded by a welcome back, my name is recognised and I feel that I am a valued customer. None of this takes much time, but it adds to my feeling of well-being as a customer. And if we think about what customers’ value, well its politeness, friendliness and action – all based on an understanding of needs.
4. Understand the Core Factors in Delivering Great Customer Service
You shouldn’t over deliver because it can work against you. Let’s go back to that call centre. Yes, hanging on for an hour at 2am is most definitely under delivery. But answering the telephone after just one second is over delivery. You are not prepared for them to answer within one second, rather three or four. That’s a good time to answer. Any earlier, well, you’re almost taken by surprise and what do you think about that company? They’ve not got enough to do, they’re waiting to pick that telephone up (even though we know that no-one in a call centre ever picks up an actual telephone!)
Great customer service has to be something you feel as well as part of a defined process. Remember a few years ago the companies selling “fantastic” CRM systems? Wow, we all wanted some until we learnt that they were software packages without the human element. So we knew everything about everybody except how to interact with them. To give great customer service you need to want to give great customer service. It comes from within. How? By recruiting the right people, by giving the right training and by providing the right working conditions. Customers see through coerced service!
And finally, think about how you would like to be treated. If your customer service team goes against how you would like to be treated then think again, change your processes or maybe get another job!
Sam Walton, the owner of Walmart said: “There is only one boss and whether a person shines shoes or heads up the biggest company in the world, the boss remains the same. It’s the customer.”
But how can we ensure we achieve good customer service, time after time? Can a uniform strategy be put in place for all industries? And how do we get our businesses to remember that the customer is indeed the boss?