The speed of technological innovation in business and the market these days is nothing less than astounding. Just a few years ago, the only way to pay for something meant taking out your wallet and offering cash or a credit card. Now, swiping your mobile device across a machine is all it takes to complete a transaction. However, while it may be easier and faster to purchase goods and services today, this does not mean for one moment that customer service has lost its value or importance. If you are in business, trying to build your brand and grow your customer base, you need to keep in mind that technology has not replaced personal contact – at least not yet. Providing the best possible customer service must always be a priority.
Step 1: Good Customer Service
Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks, stated memorably, “We are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.” If you are doing things right, you should be able to replace “coffee” with your product or service in this quotation and the same will hold true. In fact, if you are in any kind of business, you need to remember that you are in the people business. Companies across the globe – including yours – are dealing with the most informed, knowledgeable and demanding customers of all time. Gaining their trust – which will lead to gaining their loyalty – is more important today than it has ever been. Your focus should therefore be on helping, guiding and enabling your own people to build a strong and lasting relationship with every customer.
Step 2: Great Customer Service
When Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric and one of the greatest business leaders of all time, was asked to name his favourite restaurant, he replied, “The one where they know my name.” Knowing your customer is an essential step in the direction of great customer service. Recognising the regulars and being able to address them by name can require some effort, especially if you are fortunate to have lots of them, but it will be worth it. Your customers may choose a particular brand for the values that they perceive in it, yet, on a personal level, their relationship is not with the brand but with the people who represent it: That’s you and your team. If your product/service is available from more than one company, you need to ensure that whoever wants it chooses you over your competitors.
Step 3: Amazing Customer Service
Customer service is about branding and branding is about customer service. If you are not investing in the latter, you are in danger of overlooking a crucial aspect of your brand’s story. In business, every single interaction you have with your customers sends out a branding message. These interactions include:
- How you greet customers. The first 7 seconds – whether in person or on the phone – are crucial as this is when customers decide subconsciously if they like you and will buy from you or not.
- The words you use to communicate with them. A positive attitude is essential, whether in person, by e-mail or on the phone. Avoid negative words and phrases like “unfortunately” and “I will try and get it to you by…” and prefer a more upbeat “The good news is…” and “You will have it by…”
- How you deal with complaints. How you and your people react to a complaint can make or break the business. It can be the reason why a customer forgives, forgets and stays with you or bad-mouths you and your brand. Consider a complaint as a poorly-wrapped gift but a gift nonetheless.
- How consistently you follow up. Exceed expectations. If you promised to send an offer by Tuesday afternoon send it on Monday afternoon. It’s much better to ‘underpromise’ and ‘overdeliver’ than to do the opposite.
Step 4: Outstanding Customer Service
If you have implemented all the previous tips, you will no longer be so concerned about telling people what makes you unique. They already know. Now you have to ensure that they experience your uniqueness time and time again. In order to do this, it’s a good idea to map out the customer journey in the form of a diagram that illustrates the different steps that customers take when they engage with your company, and it doesn’t matter whether you are providing/selling a product, a service, an online or traditional retail experience. Customers want and expect the same degree of excellence in how you treat them, whatever sector you may be active in.
To illustrate this further, I am pleased to share with you some details of an agreement that I have signed with a leading university to map out the customer journey – and in this case, the customers are students and their families. We have identified three levels of service (Silver, Gold and Platinum) that the university’s representatives should aspire to. So, for example, imagine that a parent is coming from another town to enroll his/her daughter at the university but doesn’t know how to get there. What can the representative do?
Everyone should aspire to provide platinum service but this may not always be practical, so there are acceptable alternatives, depending on each case.
In today’s technology-dominated, automated world, it is easy to lose focus on what really matters to people. The truth is that, no matter how easy technology can make things, the customer experience is what counts and that requires the personal touch. Your goal is to ensure that what you offer your customers is so good that they will be with you throughout the journey and beyond.
Remember, that tools are meant to be used by people not to replace them.