In times gone by, it used to be that customer service was at the forefront of every successful business. Localised trading meant that people dealt with each other on a first-name basis and knew each other’s businesses in a similarly personable fashion. Then the world changed – global trading became an essential part of a successful enterprise – and that personal touch often got lost along the way.
Instead of visiting a store, orders would come in on a faceless piece of paper, an email or telephone call. That priceless emphasis on customer service was lost, and along with it a huge opportunity. Fast forward a few more years and businesses are slowly coming around to the importance of this more personable form of contact, with even the largest corporations investing heavily in social media to promote their own personalities – or spending hours refining their brand’s specific message and character. So why is it important for successful businesses to provide not just a product, but a service – and what’s more, how can it be achieved?
One of the first mistakes organisations make when trying to improve customer care is a failure to create a company culture which is 100% aligned - from the service desk to the C-Suite. Many businesses quite rightly direct immediate attention straight to the service desk when resolving to improve customer service; pumping lots of resource into that all-important first line of defence.
However, it is important to remember that no matter how well trained your help desk staff are, all of this good work can be quickly undone by a poorly trained employee who happens to sit slightly higher in the ranks. A feckless email or ill-timed sales pitch can undo months of groundwork in seconds, often inducing huge implications. Fostering a successful culture of customer care which is focussed on providing excellent service is not a quick process, often requiring a hearty investment of both time and enthusiasm from many different departments – all the way up to the CEO.
Another common error is the business which falls into the trap of simply providing ‘reactive’ customer care – essentially waiting until a customer has been negatively affected before putting measures in place to resolve the situation. In truth, pre-empting issues is not all that difficult if the right people are in place to flag up any potential issues – a mismatch of software for example, or a license which is too small to serve the needs of a larger organisation. It sounds like common sense, but if simple information such as this isn’t routinely shared throughout a business, serious problems often arise from completely avoidable situations.
Similarly, the way in which customers’ needs are prioritised can also be a stumbling block. An effective reporting system can help here – categorising a customer’s need from a slight inconvenience up to the more critical problems which cause a serious issue. This method allows those in most need to have their issues resolved quickly, minimising any ill-feeling and directing resource to where it is most urgently required.
Essentially, one of the most important mantras an organisation must embrace to really deliver excellent customer care is that giving an answer is not the same as giving a solution – especially when dealing with complex issues or services. Much of this discrepancy can be alleviated with the introduction of regular face-to-face meetings; the most tried and tested way to instil a sense of trust and understanding among a customer base. Simply knowing the best person to call when an issue arises instantly alleviates an element of stress for a worried client – and in the event that something serious does happen, a valued customer is far less likely to take their business elsewhere. Disgruntled mumblings will often come to nothing if a complaint is handled well – but even the strongest of relationships can fray if handled badly. Taking control early, setting a clear action plan and maintaining personable updates should prevent any retention figures from taking a bashing.
There is no doubt that the business world is moving at an unstoppable pace, but certain values will always ring true – often the simplest ones. As the old adage goes, look after your customers and they will look after you. Customer retention is the easiest business objective to achieve if you have the right skills in your workforce – but without them it is the fastest to disappear.
Mark Harris is head of customer care at Casewise, where he is responsible for managing the Service Desk Team on a day-to-day basis as well as driving all hiring, coaching, mentoring, people development and performance management in line with KPIs. He joined Casewise from banking giant American Express with the specific objective of improving attitudes towards customer care throughout the company.