The past, present and future of customer service

In the past, customer service was seen as being ‘friendly’. The smile and the greeting were the manifestation of great customer service.

Today, we recognise that courtesy is a part of customer service, but just the first (albeit necessary) part. Convenience, accessibility, being in stock, offering warranties and so forth all add up to the customer experience.

The future of customer service is seen as the ability to seamlessly integrate online and offline ‘experience’.

None of these views are correct.

Most businesses cannot quantify the directly influence of customer service on their bottom line and many business seem infused with a doom about customer service. There is an almost fatalistic acceptance that customers will go on line looking for bargains.

But not all retailers are that fatalistic and there are some success stories.

Office Depot’s president could not understand why all their stores get outstanding customer service ratings done by a third party (we want that!) BUT their sales were declining faster than their competitors. He knew they were not in control of the economy, they only think he could control is what was going on in their store, why are the customers not buying from them. Lots of customers walk into the store, but they come out empty handed. How did he get customers to buy again from his stores?

 “You can say what you want about who you (think you) are, but people believe what they experience”. Jack Mackey, Vice president, services Management Group

Bain and Company after they have surveyed 362 companies and found that:

  • That only 8 percent of customer surveyed describe their experience as superior.
  • Yet 80% of the companies surveyed believe that the service they provided was indeed superior.

Do you understand that what your brand stands for, what is written in your vision statement, what is on the back of your card or on your website is of no value, if the customer believe that you are not what you say you are, due to previous experiences, then that is their reality. This is the most difficult and the easiest obstacle to overcome.

We are living in the world according to the customer.

Dijuilius (author of What’s the Secret) hears it everyday and it is the same thing over and over again. This is true to what I have experienced.

  • Our business is unique (BUT you are selling to people, does not matter what business you are in.)
  •  It is hard to find employees, let alone employees who care about service. (BUT - my challenge to you is: do they want to work for you and in your business?)
  • We cannot afford to pay enough to get quality people. (BUT this is easy to fix-change your payment and reward system.)
  • The younger generation does not care. (BUT - they do not know how they need to care for your customers, because you do not really know anymore.)
  • We have a total different customer shopping with us, it is much more difficult today to understand them. (BUT - they are all people and people want to be treated with respect, friendliness and want hassle free service.)
  • We are understaffed. (BUT you can get more staff, train them to be productive make more money and then incentivise them.

We are battling to solve the H Factor.

The owner of Chick-fil-A understands the H-factor, they live the H-factor and it is part of their DNA. They are not company centric focussed, they focus on their customers. They employ the right people, they create a dynamic and expiring environment to work in, they are trained and it is more difficult to be a Chick-fil-A franchisee than to get into the CIA Cathy the owner likes to joke.

"If we have to keep telling people what to do, it means we're not modelling the behaviour ourselves," says Cathy. "If we're living it every day, we don't need to talk about it."

If we are willing to listen, learn and change then customer service does not need to be such a conundrum. There STILL is only two parts to the equation: Figure out what the customers want, and figure out how to deliver that to them.

1. Know and understand your customer’s reality.

(c) 2014 Ganador

(c) 2014 Ganador

2. People (trained staff) is your bridge to your customers

This from Tom Peters’ presentation in Johannesburg.

You staff are your best spies to find out what the secret is.

  • Talk to staff and ask about customer behaviours and desires, they know it. The thing is you have never asked them.
  • Forecast what can go wrong at any given moment of truth and put strategies in place to ensure a golden moment of truth for your customers. Might be a golden moment but it will be a moment.
  • Stew Leonard once said that you will never need a consultant, all that you have to do is talk to your customers, have a conversation ask what they would like to have and then if possible fix it or implement it. Customers get married in this store.
  • Have service recovery systems in place. “What if they bring the product back?”, “How do you handle complaints?

Don’t just ‘train’ your staff, allow them to train YOU. Involve them in designing the system of service, because they too are customers and they are the ones in direct, day contact with customers. Your job as owner/manager is NOT to come up with all the solutions, but rather to elicit the ideas, prioritise and resource the ones you want to implement.

SUMMARY

The RIGHT customer service is not how we did it in the past (a friendly smile), the present (a pleasant experience) or the future (seamless online/offline interaction).

The REAL FUTURE of customer service is all of the above; that is the real expectation of the customer.

This trend briefing by TrendWatch has several interesting case studies on customer service practices of the future being practised today.