Why listening to your customers matters

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 your customers' actions. For example, what is the real reason they are contacting you with queries?

Understanding the customer's emotional status and understanding how you can provide a good service that creates an emotional connection with their personal circumstances is critical. Consider engaging a group of your customers in helping you shape what you do to meet and exceed customer expectations.

Keep your customers informed

Depending on what sector you operate in, the frequency of changing circumstances will vary. Customers increasingly have access toa  huge amount of information, which means any questions they do ask 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 increase customer retention.

It is extremely important to pro-actively communicate with customers and help them. Websites will be receiving higher hits so it's important that online information should be updated frequently to meet customer expectations. 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.

Staff behaviour impacts on the customer experience

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 as it is not seen as a high enough priority.

The retail sector is an interesting one. I was in a quality brand retail store recently looking at a bag for my laptop. 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.

A question of value

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.

The B2B marketplace

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.

Cutting costs could impact service delivery

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?

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