In this short video, Tim Smit talks about use of financial jargon and complicated accounting terms which can be overwhelming for the entrepreneur embarking on a new business venture.
Take a few moments to think about how you communicate with clients. Does your business make it easier or more difficult for clients to deal with you? And if you don’t know, why not ask one of your clients!
I have spent my whole working life in the business world. Before creating Ecademy in 1998, I was sales and marketing director of a computer distributor. I worked for an entrepreneurial managing director and he had an excellent hold on the value of a customer to our relatively small company. We won respect and loyalty in a very competitive market by truly seeing the value of each of our 6,000 customers.
An interesting learning curve for me was that my ‘boss’ also gave me the responsibility for customer service. He felt the outcome and quality of that department were intrinsically linked to sales and marketing - and of course he was right. However, his beliefs and foresight are only just beginning to be vindicated now that consumers and businesses have a loud voice on the Internet.
In 2010, I see many opportunities for businesses to have an impact on the relationship they have with their customers. One area I am fascinated by is the relationship that will have to be formed between the customer service and marketing departments.
In a recent study carried out by CPP Group, they investigated what constitutes bad customer service and how consumers are by no means shy about telling their friends and family about their experiences. In this study they saw a growing trend toward utilising social media to share frustrations rather than telephoning or writing to the ‘offending’ company directly. A shocking set of statistics were:
“…. young adults under the age of 35 could do the most damage to an organisation’s reputation as they are most likely to talk about poor customer service online. Nearly three in ten (28.6%) of 16-24 year olds and two in ten (19.2%) 25-34 year olds would specifically use Facebook, versus only 2.7% of consumers aged 45-54 years old; highlighting the persuasive influence of this single website”.
Source: CPP Group Plc survey – October 09 (CPP White paper on Customer Service)
The use of social media by the under 35’s begs the question ‘What are companies doing to actively seek out the conversations online that can destroy a brand?’
I believe the opportunities and threats that have emerged for companies and brands within the conversations inside social networks will continue to rise at an unprecedented speed. We are only at the cusp of the use of these social networks, with the use of mobile devices only just beginning to integrate social networking into their functionality, and the utilisation of these sites by the mass to vent their frustrations.
In 2010 we will see growing use of mobile interaction with social networks. Through this avenue, consumers will create a much larger demand for high levels of customer service. The ability to spontaneously vent frustration at the exact moment of disappointment will capture irrational, gut-felt emotions in real-time. This will require a rush to get to the ‘disrupted’ customer before their conversations become viral and damaging. Speed of feedback and use of sophisticated search mechanisms to find these conversations will be critical. Microsoft have launched their new search engine, Bing, now indexing Twitter conversations, and Google will follow. Ths is an indication of the desire to seek conversations and be part of them fast.
Customer service will become a game of ‘hunting out the customer’s emotions’, not just waiting for them to call and complain. At this point the customer service team will need to become pro-active rather than reactive. I predict that the customer service team will have as much influence on the marketing and belief in a brand as the marketing teams do.
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.