Good customer service is fundamental for business growth and imperative in gaining that all-important competitive advantage. You only need to look to the high street to see household brands such as Apple, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer at the top of their game for this very reason. Good customer service should form the solid foundation of any business ethos. After all, what is a business without its customers?
I have, on occasion, been surprised by the customer service approach of some businesses. Even some of the larger organisations I have come across haven’t demonstrated the level of customer service I would expect from a firm of that size and stature. When I walked into Briggs with a vision to turn the business into a profit generator, customer service was one of my key concerns. So, did I pore through customer feedback forms or talk to the staff regarding the customer service charter? No. Instead, I made my way straight out the front door to speak to the customers directly. Hearing it from the horse’s mouth and listening to what they thought of Briggs whilst gaining insightful information on their experiences was a top priority for me.
Not all of the customers I spoke to were complimentary about Briggs and I remember one such meeting with the top brass at a well-known supermarket chain. Whilst there, I was given quite possibly the worst ‘hairdryer’ treatment I have had in my 30-year career, (to say he let me have it is an understatement)! However, it’s what I took from that feedback and how I implemented changes that counted, allowing us to go from strength to strength. Incidentally, that particular customer stayed with us, through which time we carried out regular and reliable communication – a vital factor in turning the relationship around.
So, drawing on 30 years’ experience and turning four loss-making businesses into multi-million pound profit generators, what are the top customer service tips I can offer? As outlined above, listening to customers is the first most important activity. Though it may sound obvious, I never fail to be amazed by how many companies don’t do this. Customer service is more than just box-ticking, having a charter for show, or saying ‘have a nice day’.
For me, another element of good customer service is flexibility, such as showing customers you can adapt to their needs, even if it isn’t strictly what you would normally do. Making your customers’ lives easier can make the world of difference when going head to head with your competitors and it’s the extra mile that people remember. One such change we implemented at Briggs when transforming the business model from sales to leasing, was to provide contracts that not only worked for Briggs, but for the customers too. Flexibility was what they needed to have in their business, not least because the economy was pretty turbulent at the time and committing to lengthy lease contracts wasn’t a viable option for many businesses.
Most importantly, remember to be brave and admit when you’ve got it wrong. Customers will remember the way you handled mistakes, not the mistakes themselves. A company can be redeemed by its approach in putting things right.
Customer experience is also an important aspect for businesses to consider. For example, sectors that seem to get this element right are car dealerships and new-home developers. Both are highly competitive selling market places with huge competition for high-value items. They place great emphasis on the customer journey by creating sound consumer relationships from the outset – a key role in the basics of any customer service strategy.
Loyalty is now also a big part of customer service. Originating in supermarkets, with brands like Tesco and its Clubcard, loyalty marketing has grown exponentially and is used by all types of businesses great and small. Social media channels have offered another way for us to engage with our customers and retain their loyalty. However, this can be a double-edged sword as it is often the medium through which dissatisfaction is aired, with many turning to social media to broadcast the ‘customer service sins’ of a business.
Exceeding the expectations of customers should be the mainstay of the customer service charter, and this needs to be achieved consistently. Investment in good customer service will reap dividends, resulting in positive feedback and word-of-mouth recommendations that will be instrumental in business growth. Put it at the bottom of your priority list and the consequences can be catastrophic.