Most companies believe they offer great customer service, but their customers probably aren't nearly as satisfied as they think. John Grenville, managing director of ECEX, outlines five steps to help you retain your existing customers and win new business.
Type ‘customer service’ into Google and you are presented with around 715 million results. If you decided to spend just one minute investigating each of these links – and assuming it was physically possible – you’d be gazing at a computer screen 24 hours a day for the next 500,000 years.
The subject clearly provokes a torrent of discussion and debate. Indeed, the internet supplies a wealth of guidance about how to draw up an effective customer service programme. The problem, I believe, is that much of the advice on offer is confusing and tends to muddy the waters. For me, customer service essentially boils down to five key steps:
- Recruit the right people
- Promote a customer service culture
- Engage your own employees
- Train, train, train
- Create a great customer experience
Get them right and you should find yourself with an exceptional customer care programme.
Recruit the right people. Hire people with the right attitude, not just the right skills. You can always train skills, but it’s impossible to train someone to be naturally pleasant and helpful. So, when you interview prospective employees, include questions aimed at determining whether they exhibit the right underlying behaviour and personality. The key skills in customer service are empathy, patience, consistency, adaptability and clear communication so ask questions designed to give you clues about whether or not the interviewee possesses these attributes.
Promote a customer service culture. A company mission statement that just pays lipservice to customers is worse than useless. It might help you start building a caring culture, but to really make it work, you need to embed a bone-deep commitment to customer service into your business.
My own company focuses on a set of fundamental values tied closely to core behaviours. For example, one of our values is exceeding expectations. This is supported by three critical behaviours – work hard to understand the needs of our customers and prioritise our work accordingly; take responsibility to own and resolve issues efficiently and to their conclusion, and inspire confidence in our brand and go beyond our customers’ expectations at all times.
Another of our values is that everybody matters, including our customers, employees and suppliers. This principle is also supported by a trio of practical behaviours – be friendly, approachable and professional in everything we do; show respect and be honest in all our dealings, and, as a team, build trust and encourage others to do the same.
Engage your own employees. Engagement is a measure of the extent to which employees put discretionary effort into their work – in other words, the capacity to give that little bit extra. Enagaged employees in the UK typically represent just 17% of the workforce, according to a study by pollster Gallup. More alarmingly, 26% are said to be actively disengaged – these are the people working hard at not working. So, pay attention to employee engagement and, if necessary, take steps to improve it.
Train, train, train. Every successful customer care programme is underpinned by effective training. Although this includes product or service knowledge training, equally important are lessons on how to work together effectively and deal with real-life situations such as an angry customer or someone who wants to return a defective product. And it pays to involve all your employees in customer service (and the training in it), not just those whose primary role it is. As John Fleming, Gallup’s chief scientist of marketplace consulting, says: “In almost any company, employees who aren’t customer-facing play a quality and support role. One of the critical elements for every worker is a direct line of sight to the customers and how their work affects customers.”
Create a great customer experience. Too many companies focus so much on the bottom line that they overlook how their policies are impacting on the customer experience. But good customer experiences create loyal customers. And loyal customers are far more valuable than satisfied ones because they tend to tell their friends about you and, thus, drum up more business. So, ensure that every customer interaction your company runs as smoothly as possible.
As well as being the right thing to do and demonstrating that you are a progressive and enlightened company, I believe following these five steps will also offer you solid business benefits by protecting your business and promoting growth.
Five sobering service statistics
- The average business loses around 20% of its customers annually simply by failing to attend to customer relationships.
- Around a third of customers take their business to a competitor when they end a business relationship.
- Globally, the average value of a lost customer has been estimated at almost £170.
- Companies tend to focus on customer acquisition more than retention, even though it can cost six or seven times more to acquire new customers.
- A 10% increase in customer retention results in a 30% increase in the value of the company.
By John Grenville, managing director of ECEX, manufacturers and installers of steel fabrication and is the sole European distributor of the ECEX Air Intake Screen.