Better customer service

Good customer service is essential for all business.

I have had a few experiences recently where customer service was less than satisfactory and I was left wondering why was it all so hard.

Why would any company treat their customers poorly since data shows that a dissatisfied customer will on average tell between nine and 15 other people about their experience and around 13 per cent of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people (source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs)?

While I don’t subscribe to the view that ‘the customer is always right’ (there are some pretty bad customers out there as well and bad customers can send you broke), the first assumption should be that they have a legitimate complaint which should be fully explored.

When it comes to customer service it is worth remembering that this is very often a key differentiating factor for a business especially if you are in a commodity space or where similar products and services may be purchased elsewhere.

I often ask business owners if they have suppliers from whom they purchase products or services and continue to buy from even though they know that they could get the same or very similar at a cheaper price?

The answer is always yes. Why?

Because they know that they will get a predictable level of quality and/or customer service and that this is worth paying for.

Other statistics worth knowing are that a customer is four times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related rather than price- or product-related (source: Bain and Company) and it costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one (source: Bain and Company).

So with all this mounting evidence on the value of providing great customer service, why do we see so many instances where even basic standards appear to be lacking?

There may be a number of reasons for this, so here a few to think about.

Staff approach to customer service is rules-based, not values-based.

While certain rules should always be upheld for reasons of consistency and propriety, there is often a degree of flexibility in some of the defined company rules and so if doing the right thing in accordance with the defined company values means a level of interpretation then this is likely to pay off.

It also empowers staff to think more about treating customers properly rather than according to rules which may not apply in every situation.

Short-term vs long-term perspective – arguing with a customer to simply win the point or make a bit of extra cash may mean you win the battle but perhaps lose the war.

I am currently in discussion with an online florist who agreed to make a delivery at an appointed time and took my payment but after then advising the following day that the delivery could not be made then, refused to refund my payment.

I am still in discussions on this but there is no way I will ever use this florist again.

Lack of responsibility to meeting commitments – I used to do some customer service training for local councils and something that I used to share was that if you want to be in the top 20 per cent of suppliers providing great at customer service, simply do what you promise to do.

It never ceases to amaze me how frequently people are prepared to renege on what was committed not realising that the greater part of integrity is “being your word”.

How many times have you called a mobile and received a voicemail saying “please leave me a message and I will ring you right back”? And does this happen?

Lack of communication – notwithstanding the above comment on meeting commitments, there will always be situations in which despite efforts, commitments cannot be met.

Customers understand this in which case communication is key and requires that feedback is provided as early as possible.

Interestingly 95 per cent of dissatisfied customers would continue to do business with a company if their problem was solved quickly and satisfactorily (source: International Customer Service Association).

Ian Ash is the managing director for OrgMent Business Solutions.