The customer may always be right, but are they the right customers?
One of the customer’s of my company (SellerDeck) was incredibly picky about how their business wanted to use our software. We are a mass market, low price supplier and we’ve sold tens of thousands of products and services, so we normally can’t make changes for individual companies who typically pay a few hundred pounds each. However, this particular customer was very persistent. So one of our product managers contacted them, spent ages discussing their requirements and subsequently we agreed to make some changes. Responding in this way was exceptional and it cost us much more than we could ever make in sales from the particular guy.
But this customer isn’t at all grateful. In fact, recently they have become even more critical, and have continued to cost us more in support than almost anyone else. Would it have been better if we had said “no” in the first place?
Without sounding too critical, the customer in question doesn’t appear to be particularly successful, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence. If someone can’t understand the business needs of their suppliers, they probably don’t know how their own customers tick either.
Some clients are very demanding, and whatever you do they are never satisfied. I’m not talking about customers upset with poor service, who need helping. Nor am I talking about customers that need a lot of handholding. Nor about customers who buy the wrong product, who should have their money returned. I’m talking about customers who fundamentally don’t understand the trade-off involved in human and business interactions.
Although the circumstances I’ve described are rare, they aren’t unique. My guess is that this applies to maybe one in two hundred customers. The cost in time and demoralising impact on staff makes it more difficult to give good service to everyone else. As a result, I am coming to the conclusion that for this small minority, we would do better to suggest that they do business with our competitors.
It’s critical not to provide our customer service team with any excuse for bad service, so there are some dangers in adopting such measures. However, applied incredibly carefully to a very small minority, surely it’s time to review the relationship with these sorts of customers?
'Reduce your carbon footprint', they said. Travel by train to 'ease the strain' they said. So, with a meeting in London last Monday and trips to Leeds and Manchester for the rest of last week, I booked all my journeys (Banbury to London to Leeds to Manchester to Banbury) on-line. As a customer, I had to work really hard to get it all done on the web but nonetheless, so far, so good... tickets to be collected at 'starting' stations (don't risk the mail, eh?). I printed the booking references, which confirmed all the non-transferable train travel details for each journey and I packed them carefully.
Life got interesting at Kings Cross, Monday evening for the trip to Leeds. Rows of ticket collection machines were three-deep in travelers but I got to one, entered my details and tickets were produced - outbound ticket, booking receipt, and credit card voucher. And that was it. So, I waited 20 minutes for the platform to be called - only 7 minutes to departure - then hurried to the barrier.
At the barrier, I was told that I needed another ticket in addition to the ones I held. I said I picked up all that was produced; I showed the on-line confirmation. No good. I was directed back to the ticket machines for the missing ticket. I explained that would have been 20 or more minutes ago so even if I had missed a ticket, it would be long-gone and I could only travel on that train or forfeit the fare - no deal.
Not only could I not identify exactly which of the many machines I had used, the 'help desk' had 30 or more people already queuing.
Panicking, I found a security guard who found me a railway employee. He took all the tickets and the on-line confirmation I gave him; he hand wrote: date, train time, destination, seat number on a blue slip only from the detail I gave him. AND HE ADDED NOTHING NEW...! The guy at the barrier saw the blue form but didn't check any detail....
If I wasn't athletic, I would have missed that train.
So, why this procedure? Security, Client Service - or 'jobs for the boys' on the railways?
At the start of the week we asked you to put forward your key ideas for a best practice customer service manifesto that small businesses should adopt and you didn’t let us down. Below are the best tips that any small firm should abide by, not on occasion but all the time. Thank you very much to everyone who contributed.
“Great customer service as a standard, not a bonus.”
Listening. By @picseli
Being nice, being helpful and being there. By @RealTrevorLever
Honesty. By @Web_D
Thinking about how we would wish to be treated in the customer’s position. By short couture
Understanding the context of our customers. How does your service affect their life/business? By @tazbride
Good communication and respect for your customers. By @atkirby
Show that we appreciate their business. Say thank you once in a while. By @SonjaJefferson
Think of our customers' needs. Focus on their problems and make ourselves invaluable. By @SonjaJefferson
Care (and don't just pretend). By Digital Jonathon
Treat our customers as we would like to be treated. Call when we say we will, even if we have nothing new to tell them. By @nigel_dean
Act fast, speak truth, admit mistakes, undertake to fix and follow through fast...do NOT pass the buck! By @DebraTemplar
Acknowledge it is OK to make mistakes but crucially, to learn from them. Be genuine and humble in our apology. By @jamesainsworth
Communicate in ways they appreciate. Find out how they want to hear from us. Don't spam. By @SonjaJefferson
Be reliable. Do what we say we'll do or be honest when we can't. By @SonjaJefferson
Measure our success - get regular feedback from customers on our service quality. By @benpopps
Be consistent. By Will Stone
Give authority to ALL staff to fix problems for customers without miles of red tape. By @DebraTemplar
Provide multiple contact channels. Customers are different and have diff contact preferences. By @benpopps
Empower front line team to recover service without having to go to a 'supervisor' - give a budget and ensure they spend it. By @michellecarvill
Incentivise 'extra mile' service from staff. By @benpopps
Always be thinking about what we can do that their larger competitors can't. By Andrew McMillan
Treat every customer as an individual. By Chris W
Adopt proactive communication...at beginning, middle and end of service delivery. By @benpopps
Transparency helps in customer service - if we are open and honest customers often feel they can trust more. By @ronkelawal
Stay in touch. Too many businesses chase new business when existing customers are much more valuable. By @mickdickinson
Have a phone number so a customer can contact a real person directly. By @yBCmels
The quicker a caller speaks to a real person the better, even if they gone on hold/into a queue after that. By @jakepjohnson
Have we missed anything important? Please share your thoughts and comments with us in the box below.
When the Marketing Donut asked me to make a short contribution to their customer service manifesto for small businesses, I struggled to keep it brief. That’s because I think there are three customer service ingredients that are critical to every business, and they are all connected - leadership, communication and motivation.
The first, leadership, is easy to sum up concisely: it’s about having a vision of where your business is going.
Communication is very strongly linked to leadership, because every piece of communication between your workforce and your customers has to be aligned with your business vision. When I say communication, I don’t just mean what you say and write, but everything you convey to your customers. It’s the impressions and experiences they take away with them.
The third ingredient in good customer service is what I call ‘aligning the motivators’. Let me explain: what I see in most organisations is that they have a great vision of what they want to be and they have lots of communication around that vision. Then they motivate people to do the wrong things.
I’m thinking, for example, about the call centre with a strong customer service promise that gives people bonuses based on the number of calls they make per hour. The result is that if someone gets a difficult call, it’s in their interest to end the call as quickly as possible rather than to deal with the problem properly. So what about the customer service promise? The rewards you offer your team for work well done have to promote your vision, not undermine it.
So we have leadership, communication, motivation – the three ingredients of effective customer service. Then I thought about integrity. Really, what we’re talking about here is integrity - of vision, of communication and of practice.
You can’t be saying how important customers are to you and then slating them behind their backs. Nor can you say that your people are your greatest asset and then call them your ‘staff’ and not your ‘team’. You certainly can’t sell a product that’s not right for your customer. Whatever you do, do it with integrity and strong customer service will follow. Believe me, the customer soon knows if the integrity isn’t there.
If you have a really well run business with customers at the heart of everything you do I believe that should be, and is, a perfectly understandable reaction. In all seriousness, I do think that National Customer Service Week is a really good idea, but I would liken it to the annual employee appraisals that exist in many large businesses. When conducted properly, the annual appraisal should be a reflection and written confirmation of all the activity that has gone on in the past year. Sadly that is often not the case and the first an employee hears of their good performance or areas for development is at their annual appraisal. Similarly Customer Service Week, in a well run business, should be an opportunity to reflect and celebrate all the excellent service that the business has been delivering over the last year and not a focus on its customer service for one of the 52 weeks of the year.
There is lots to celebrate, too. Last week I was involved in the judging of the annual WOW! Awards for customer service and one of my categories was small business. I was really taken with how responsive and caring these businesses were and how they were using the benefits of their relatively unstructured systems to do what was best for their customers either collectively or individually. Many of the larger businesses I work with would really struggle to deliver the individual attention to detail these finalists were demonstrating.
So, one way in which you might approach this week is to concentrate on identifying all the really good things you do for customers and celebrating them with your employees. It’s very easy in a busy pressurised environment to feel that customer service is just ‘doing your job’ but using this week to take the time to recognise and celebrate your achievements could deliver great benefits for many weeks to come. Who knows, you might even enjoy it so much that it becomes a feature of every week of the year, just like a well managed annual appraisal.
At some point in time there was a shift in customer care in British retail and services. From the days of being ever-so British and polite, we now only talk about customer service in the positive when it is good — as a bonus, not a standard.
As the various political parties are in full conference swing and talking policy and proposals, here at the Marketing Donut we thought we’d produce a manifesto of our own.
This week is National Customer Service Week and to that end we want you to help us draw up a Customer Service Manifesto by sending your suggestions to us. At the end of the week we’ll turn your ideas into our golden standard of customer care and, of course, give credit where it is due to you the contributor.
What would you add to a Customer Service Manifesto to be the minimum level of practice for small businesses all the time and not just in exceptional circumstances?
Please keep your contribution brief and to the point and send it to us by: