This week I have experienced both ends of the spectrum in terms of customer service from the high street, and every shade in between. The difference has been extreme, and it made me question whether customer service is viewed as a nicety rather than a necessity these days.
What is customer service? There are probably loads of dictionary definitions out there but to me it’s about treating the client with respect, doing your best to assist them and provide the service or product that meets their requirement, and sometimes being prepared to think outside the box or make an exception.
Over the years I have had plenty of customer service training, I still remember the ‘warm fuzzy’ and ‘cold prickly’ training I got in my Saturday job at Woolworths. We even had the little fluffy things with the ribbon on that sit on your desk to remind us that we had to use warm fuzzies when dealing with customers. In the motor trade I watched with interest as the PLC’s suddenly jumped on the customer service bandwagon, suddenly making the customer happy was more important than ever, no longer were the old fashioned sales tactics acceptable, now the customer was king and his ever so important grading of you from 1 to 10 meant more than anything to head office.
Has the pursuit of customer service gone too far? Do we really want to end up with the ‘have a nice day’ false smile every time we shop? I don’t. I want sincerity, I would like the store assistant to look as though they cared, rather than as though they can’t wait to go home, and would like to be treated as more than just a number, or an allocated time slot.
So what is good customer service? This week it was the lady in the high street store who gladly accepted my rather long emailed shopping list from me, and went out of her way to source the stock and supply it to my rather tight deadline. She suggested alternatives when items were discontinued, and had an excellent knowledge of her product. She even suggested alternative retailers where she was unable to meet my requirements. She offered to open the store early for me, in order to facilitate completion of the order, and kept me regularly updated in terms of delivery date, and advised where extras had not been requested that were really quite important to the order. I suppose that this is all part of her job, but throughout the relationship she made me feel as though I was important to her, even to the point of leaving me a voicemail when the order process was completed, offering further assistance if I needed it. Will I shop with her again? Too right I will. Not only that I am actually going to write to her head office and say how wonderful she is, not to mention sending her a handwritten thank you card. Why am I doing this? Because too often these days we only ever take the time to complain. People are quick to judge, and much slower at showing gratitude. Is there any wonder anyone working in the customer facing environment becomes jaded over time.
So what is bad customer service? It’s where you are so rigid with your rules that you make it impossible for the customer to purchase your product or service. There is no option when ‘the computer says no’, no, it’s not the comedy sketch from the TV, it’s the way too many companies are heading in the modern world. If you don’t tick the right boxes on their computer system they are unable to assist you. They are very eager to offer an apology, as if the word sorry will magically fix everything. It’s where you don’t listen to what the customer wants or needs, or you listen and then still say no. Would it really be that hard to try and find a solution for your customer? I think this is becoming a much more common issue since the advent of the call centre. The local knowledge has been diluted, to the point that when I try and ring my clients local business manager I often end up talking to someone a couple of hundred miles away or even in a foreign country. His local business manager can sometimes make a decision for himself and be flexible or supportive, these remote call centres are hampered by such rigid rules and lack of local knowledge they are unable to help.
So how do you incorporate customer service into your business? Do you value your customer or are they just an anonymous number, a means to an end? I am not sure of the exact statistic but an irate customer will tell many more people about your bad customer service, a happy one normally tells less than a handful. Sometimes a complaining customer can become your best advocate, listen to what the problem is, if it’s your fault acknowledge the error, tell them how you will rectify it for
them now, and how you will ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future. By coming up with a solution you have that customer on your side, yes he may still tell his friends what you did wrong, but he will also tell them how you went out of your way to assist.
Does customer service not relate back to manners in some way? I was brought up to say please and thank you, to respect others, and to treat people as I would like to be treated. Over the years I have seen some appalling treatment of staff by customers. There is a huge difference between being firm and being rude. There is no need to be rude. If you want to receive good customer service then firstly you have to be a good customer, secondly you have to take pot luck that the supplier you select actually cares about customer service, it’s a bit like a lottery in a way.
So think about how you can show good customer service in your business, show respect to those you are dealing with, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box on occasion. These days it’s not all about price, it’s the overall service.