Rather than focusing on adding extra features and fashionable gizmos to your company's website, you need to up the quality of your customer interaction, says Chris Barling.
It’s often said that the customer is King. In which case I would say that customer service should be regarded as Queen.
However, we humans love a new challenge and often quickly lose interest with the familiar. And one of the things that we already know is that the quality of customer service is a major driver of business success. The fact that this is old news doesn’t make it any less important.
Lead by example
One of the keys to providing great service is to have your staff committed to that aim. To have any chance of success here, you need to both treat the staff how you want them to treat your customers, and above all lead by example. As the CEO of my business, I always accept calls from customers. This works because customers don’t abuse my willingness to be open. If I don’t treat customers with respect, and talk to them, how can I expect my staff to behave?
Getting it right
There is a virtuous circle in customer care. Happy customers are easier to deal with. Customers who feel that they’ve been treated badly often approach the next issue in a more belligerent frame of mind. This belligerence then impacts staff, who can respond in kind. If you ever find yourself in this situation, you have a real problem. The only way out is to make your service truly great, and keep it that way. Over a few months the attitude of customers will then turn around.
Good customer service checklist
- Provide good service in the first place – it avoids a host of follow on problems
- Ensure that you have a culture of respecting and helping customers and lead by example
- When a customer complains, apologise and correct things immediately
- Get customer feedback and do something with it, embrace the negative as an opportunity to improve
- Use a mystery shopper to do regular checks on your service
- Make sure your excellent service extends to every customer touch point, across all channels
You also need to ensure that you are giving a consistent service across the whole company, however the customer contacts you. That means both pre- and post-sales, and whether the customer enquiries, orders, returns goods, asks for support, or complains via the web, telephone, mail or face to face. That’s a lot of processes to integrate and manage.
Keeping it right
Good customer service is hard work; it takes time, energy and dedication and sadly it’s not particularly sexy, especially with fast growth businesses. If you want to be a success you have to keep things going for the long term and it’s very easy to lose concentration. In fact, you need to keep on coming up with new initiatives so that all staff involved stay at the top of their game.
Listening to customers
Recently I attended an event run by industry organisation The Catalogue Exchange. One of the major topics of conversation was a new web-based service called Feefo. Feefo emails customers a few days after they have purchased in order to get their feedback on the service received. Several of the entrepreneurs who presented mentioned how they used the service to listen to their customers. One, the CEO of a £65m business, receives every email personally and looks at all of the previous day’s feedback each morning. I was chatting to Feefo founder Bill Cawley recently and we were discussing what happens when a company whose customer service is poor implements the system. “It improves rapidly,” was Bill’s comment, “because it has to. Often, owners aren’t aware of just how poor their service is perceived to be by their customers.”
Feefo is just one way of getting feedback. Another way is to regularly survey customers for their view of service. The key point is that every business needs a formal method for getting customer feedback.
Making complaints work for you
The subject of complaints is a tricky one and no one really likes having to deal with them. After all, suggesting that customers can complain is establishing a culture of poor service, isn’t it? I don’t think that’s true. No matter how well we provide service, there will be occasional service failures, if only because we can’t control the weather or guarantee that our suppliers won’t let us down. Making it easy to complain, then dealing with complaints promptly, is all part of providing good service.
A mystery shopper is a great way of not only checking on the quality of service provided, but establishing the broader picture of the quality of the customer experience. This involves an unknown person contacting your company and going through the full customer life-cycle, then reporting back to management. If you are a small company you may be able to get a friend to do this, and for larger businesses there are specialists that provide this service.
Keeping the faith
The key principle underlying all of these techniques is that it is your customers who decide whether you provide great service. They are the ones we all need to listen to, and it is really only their judgement that counts.
My business provided the technology that helped a start-up grow from zero to £23m in sales in a handful of years. Founder Steve Hanbury always had one major, major focus, which was customer service and I’m certain that this was a big part of his success. Saying “customer service is Queen” is meaningless unless it’s turned into actions. All great businesses centre on their customers and if you do, you will see improved business performance too.
Chris Barling is CEO of Actinic which specialises in helping start-ups and SMEs sell online with its ecommerce software and in-store EPOS systems. He writes regularly for BusinessZone.co.uk.