Is the customer always right? Customer service expert Derek Williams answers this and other important customer service questions
1. Is it true that the client is always right?
Yes. The customer is always right. The customer's perception is reality.
2. If the client is always right, does it mean the service provider is always wrong, even if they have been trained and well prepared for the job?
Training and preparation is essential but it cannot prepare us for every possible situation. Things will go wrong sometimes or mistakes will be made. The service provider has to recognise this. If something goes wrong, then it is important to learn from that mistake. Find out why it has happened. Speak to the customer and understand their point of view. And then change the system so that the same problem does not happen again.
There is one other alternative. Each business has to decide what type of customers it wants to deal with. It cannot possibly hope to please every type of customer. The business may decide that it cannot solve a particular customer's problem and decide that it will risk losing that customer. Poor service businesses lose customers without ever making this choice.
3. Since the customer must always be put first, why is it that most organisation charts put the CEO/Chairman/MD on top?
Most businesses are thinking only of their own organisation, communication and delegation when constructing an organisation chart. They think that everything must come from the CEO or Chairman and draw the chart accordingly.
A business that is truly customer focused will put its customers first. This means drawing the organisation chart as an inverted pyramid. Customers go at the top of the chart and underneath them are the people in the front line. The CEO is at the bottom of the chart.
When the organisation is looked at in this way it becomes clear that the role of management is to support the front line people.
4. Does putting the customer first imply complete capitulation to his/her whims and desires?
Not capitulation but partnership. If a good customer (one that you value) asks you to jump, then the only question is, "How high?"
Businesses need to remember that there is a cost involved of not resolving a customer's problem. When dealing with a problem, think about the life-time value of the customer before making a decision.
5. Does good customer care cost money?
Poor customer care costs money. Research shows that poor customer care is the biggest single reason for customers changing their supplier.
Good customer care may require a small investment but the returns can be enormous. Most businesses do not measure how many customers they lose. If they did, they would be able to calculate if it was worth making an investment in customer care.
6. How should management go about deciding what part of its budget it should allocate to ensure good customer care/relations?
All expenditure should be viewed as an investment and management should consider how to get the best return on the total investment. Delivering good service means giving the people who really matter (the front line) the resources that they need i.e. training, equipment, systems, support and leadership.
7. What bearing does training have on caring for one's customers?
Training is essential. And it shows. Simply investigate any of the world's greatest businesses and see how much importance they attach to training. Do you think that you would be allowed to sweep the streets at Disney without training?
Unfortunately, the education system lets down our students. We teach our children maths and science and verbal language skills. But we do little to teach them the language of human understanding and care.
8. Are customers the same all over the world or do culture and size of a country make a difference?
Culture makes huge differences. But care and understanding has to come from the supplier. Once a culture of care has been established within a business, that business can work with any country and any culture. When you truly care you will understand your customer.
Customers will not tolerate bad service regardless of where they come from. If anything, the customer's perception might be that a small business should be able to give better service than a large one. Isn't that why, as customers, we often prefer to deal with small suppliers rather than the multi-national giants?
9. Owner/managers are often more concerned with making money than making improvements they don't deem absolutely necessary (ie training). Staff can be more concerned with earning their pay than how the company performs. Is there a solution to such situations?
This is true. Some owners/managers have this attitude. It is usually very short-sighted and fundamentally wrong. But unless they are faced with extremely difficult circumstances they are unlikely to change. It's unfortunate for them and for their customers.
There is a solution to this problem and it starts with leadership. Show me a leader with vision and I'll show you great service.
There is also a problem in that there are not enough skilled customer service advisors who really understand business performance. It's okay to know what makes for good service but, unless this can be translated into financial improvement, the business owner is unlikely to change his or her view.
10. What are the three most important ingredients that make a great business and why?
Leadership, communication and systems.
Leadership for the vision, the culture, the willingness to invest and for maintaining principles.
Communication with the internal customer as well as the external customer. Without communication how can we ever spread the vision or respond to our customers. And remember, communication comes in many forms. A cracked cup may say more about your business than an international quality achievement.
Systems to make things happen consistently. And when you have systems that really work you can change the system if something goes wrong. Systems allow people to perform the majority of a task subconsciously (just like driving a car) and focus all their conscious effort on the customer.