How often do you take the time to ask your customers what they think about your service? When they ask questions, how much effort do you make to answer them properly? Customer service expert Derek Bishop stresses the importance of listening to your customers
It is important to truly understand what's driving the reason for your customers' actions. For example, what is the real reason they are contacting you with queries, rather than just answering them.
Understanding the customer's emotional status and understanding how you can not only provide a good service, but one that creates an emotional connection with their personal circumstances is critical, so consider engaging a group of your customers in helping you shape what you do to meet and exceed customer expectations in these challenges circumstances.
Depending on what sector you provide services in, the frequency of changing circumstances will vary. Customers these days have a huge amount of information available to them from a variety of sources, which means the questions they will ask you are likely to be more in-depth, and very specific to themselves. Keeping your front line staff up to date and in a position where they can confidently answer questions from concerned customers will naturally create a greater feeling of confidence for the customer, helping retention.
It is extremely important to pro-actively communicate with customers and help them. Websites will be receiving higher hits and the updating of the information should be increased in line with what customers are likely to expect from you. If they can't find the information on the website, they will either make choices without the information or find out through different methods - all of which could potentially have a negative impact on your business.
Consider your customer-facing staff - how they feel, plus their views, will have a direct bearing on how they interact with customers. It is hugely important to engage with your staff and communicate actively with them. If your staff are extremely well informed, they will display this confidence when communicating with the customers. Sadly, often communication drops at times like this, as leaders are so busy working out what needs to be done, unfortunately communication is not seen as a high enough priority.
The retail sector is an interesting one. I was in a quality brand retail store the other day looking at spending a few hundred pounds. In this particular store I was looking at a bag for my laptop and the sales assistant approached me and said: "Feel free to take the packing out of the inside of the bag, I've got nothing else to do than re-pack it afterwards so it'll give me something to do." Clearly, they were struggling with sales volumes, but rather than focusing on helping me as a customer, they talked about themselves and how bored they were. In contrast, in another store the sales assistant was so keen to assist me in my buying decision that it was extremely annoying - their eagerness was irritating, and verged on desperation. Both created such a negative customer experience that I didn't purchase from either.
The risk of creating an unplanned negative effect on the customer experience is significantly higher in pressure periods - leaders should ensure they are actively engaging and supporting their staff.
With customers coming under financial strain, price will become an increasingly important factor, but service will still play a huge role. Organisations need to ensure they are delivering good value, and good customer service is a critical component in that.
Even with such price sensitivity, higher levels of customer service can make a huge difference to customers, with them potentially paying a slightly higher price just to have the confidence that you'll look after them better. Switching service providers just to save a small amount of money may be considered not worth it by many customers, as they will be moving from current good trusted service delivery to the unknown of a new provider.
If you are in the business-to-business marketplace, your challenges may be slightly different. Bear in mind again that circumstances will be changing. For example, one of our clients in the financial services marketplace was hugely impacted by the changes on the stock market. For three days one of the directors I was working with could not focus on the project we were working on, even though our agreed project timelines were very tight. Recognise that the best-laid plans may have to change at the last minute, which can be hugely frustrating, disruptive and costly. Unfortunately, these factors are not all in our control and organisations need to be flexible in their approach to supporting clients.
Customer behaviour may be erratic, as emotions are taking over and in some instances they will be feeling scared. That distressed feeling will drive actions and their decision-making. The way you provide your service can have a dramatic effect on how your customers feel towards you as a business, and therefore whether they stay with you, or go elsewhere.
Customer service leaders will come under pressure to deliver the service at less cost, all at a time when there will be an increased demand on customer service. Leaders need to take a look at what realistically can be achieved and any cost reduction initiatives needs to be thoroughly investigated - what's the impact on the customer experience? How will this fit against the likely increased demand?