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:
Customer relationship management (CRM) is crucial to any organisation – whether you are the biggest and best brand in the world or the smallest start up. You always need to work on your relationships. They will help you sell more, be more reactive to criticism, improve your product/service and ultimately could help you improve your profitability.
Alternatively, failing to work on your CRM strategy could lead your company down a dark path where you have no idea what your customers think, no idea if they are bad mouthing you, miss meetings, fail to uncover sales opportunities – and perhaps the biggest of all – fail to spot disgruntled customers ready to leave.
There are many facets to developing your CRM strategy, but why not start with my four basic principles:
1. The sooner you start building relationships with a customer, the better.
It’s never too early to start. The very first time you have the chance to connect do it with a personal approach. Empathise with them, listen to what they have to say and try to understand what they are looking for (or what problem they have). By listening and showing that you listen you will be able to meet their needs (or not in some cases) and gain a little bit of trust and respect.
2. It's inevitable to lose some prospects, but it's important to try to solicit feedback in a personal conversation.
If you find that your prospect is not suited to your product and it won’t solve their needs, don’t try to crow bar a sale by fitting a square peg in a round hole. You should, by now, have an understanding of how it isn’t a good match, and if you know your stuff, why not suggest an alternative which you believe is useful? It shows you are knowledgeable in the subject and genuinely want to help.
3. Don't be afraid to receive criticism or negative feedback.
When a prospect or customer says ‘no’ or wants to criticise your product or service, let them. There is no shame in not being perfect. By listening to what they don’t like you can look at what you are providing and see if it makes sense to modify or change the offering slightly. You can bet your bottom dollar this person won’t be alone in their thoughts. At Glasscubes we try to take every bit of feedback and build it into our product roadmap (and we generally prioritise these developments over our own).
4. Don't try to make a goodbye message into another attempt to sell.
I’m sure we’ve all done it, but I believe it’s crucial not to. Don’t try and push more marketing or sales messages to someone who is already leaving. Certainly be polite and courteous, but sales messages are so obvious. You’re likely to leave a better taste in the mouth by once again understanding their needs and accepting their decision to leave. This may help you keep the relationship going so that if circumstances change, a reunion may not be out of the question.
In the old days a quibble over a product or service not being up to scratch would be resolved through an exchange of letters with a customer service department. A swift resolution ensuing, the customer would be happy and the business might have gone beyond just saving face and reinforced its brand values, too. Today, this model is not quite so strong.
According to Webuser.co.uk, a holidaymaker has secured £600 in compensation for a disastrous holiday as a result of the prominent Google search ranking he achieved for the angry blog he fired off when a complaint letter to the holiday firm yielded no result.
The holidaymaker had originally penned a letter of complaint (ten pages of letter, in fact) detailing a depressing series of problems he encountered during a less than satisfactory Tunisian holiday. After six weeks, having only received an acknowledgment for his rant, the increasingly angry traveller went public and recorded his troubles on his personal blog.
In no time, he was getting lots of traffic – much of it from people who had simply typed search terms relating to holidays in Tunisia. In fact, the critical blog entry’s Google ranking was creeping ever closer to the summit on all the key search terms the travel company would rather see taking you to the holiday package they were trying to flog.
Once the holiday company became aware of the growing popularity of the blog post, blogs about the blog post and probably even blogs blogging about the impact of blog posts about the original blog post - such is the way the Internet feeds off itself - it became apparent that an “elevated” level of response was required. Compensation was paid to the blogger and an apology posted on his blog, to boot.
However, it may be too late for damage limitation – the rant, of course, has been widely seen and still exists in the public domain. The digital footprint of a blog post that would never have seen the light of day had the travel company responded sooner is now leaving the most indelible – and embarrassing – of stains on its reputation.
This comes under the heading of really useful. Also under the headings of kind of cool, and different from your competitors. How often have you gone to call someone in another time zone and, after getting their phone number from their website, struggled to work out the exact time where they are? If it happens when you call other people, imagine how often it happens when people call you from abroad?
Enter ClockLink. A range of fully customisable, free clocks for your website or blog. Very nifty, very clever, and just a bit fun. How about a retro digital clock, in the colour of your choice, showing the time in Osaka? Or a more traditional clock face showing the time in Moscow? Or you might want to be sensible and let people know what time it is in Wooton-Under-Edge. In fact, just about any look, colour, face and size is possible. They've even got count down clocks, perfect for your next event. Check out the website and give them a whirl.