Putting customer service first during rapid growth

A shop assistance serves a female customer


When faced with the challenges of increased customer demand, many businesses become internally focused as they work out ways of coping. But all too often in these situations, more attention is paid to pushing through new customer orders, and less to the quality or customer experience. So what should you do? Derek Bishop of Culture Consultancy shares his advice

When you're busy dealing with increased customer orders, it's easy to fall into the trap of letting your customer experience deteriorate. A poor customer experience can lead to complaints and compensation demands, or worse still cause customers to look elsewhere. Even when the pressure is on, maintaining your defined customer experience is critical.

Managing rapid growth

In a rapidly growing business, good process, controls and governance are absolutely essential. Responding to huge demand without suitable controls is commercial suicide. You'll spend so much time trying to work out what's actually going on, and putting out mini fires within the overall crisis, that lots of time and energy will be lost, and worse still future problems will be building up. When you hit a growth spurt, if you don't already have good processes, controls and management information in place, make sure you rapidly implement some in order to maintain control of the situation.

If you get it wrong, the negative impact on the customer experience (including the errors and rework, etc) will limit your growth, as resources will be allocated to fixing problems rather than accepting new customers.

Quality vs speed

Often, adherence to processes and quality standards suffer as staff seek ways of 'processing' customers as quickly as possible. Shortcuts are taken and processes often not fully completed, particularly internal processes, which don't affect the customer immediately but store up trouble for the future.

A mindset of speed over quality also often sets in, and errors will start to creep in. These errors will be a mixture of customer impact ones and internal, some of which may never be identified. So find ways of maintaining your quality checks.

I'm often presented with the challenge of "that's great, but I don't have the money to be able to do that". The challenge in these situations is to look at your operating costs and identify other areas where you may be able to temporarily re-direct resources to customer service. In most businesses there are areas where non-critical activities are taking place, and the impact of temporarily suspending (or just decreasing) that activity will be less risky than allowing customer service to suffer.

Communication is key

Communicate with your customers appropriately, tell them what's happening and manage their expectations - but think about how you will do this and the words you will use. Many businesses keep callers holding on the phone with the message "you're in a queue, your call is important to us". This messaging can be damaging, as the customer will inevitably think, "if I were that important to you, you wouldn't keep me waiting".

Keep your staff and rest of the business updated on what's happening as well. If your sales team is being challenged by customers about the service they're receiving, and the team isn't aware of what's actually going on, they're not in a position to help you and manage customer expectations. No matter how difficult the internal challenges, share and discuss them with other critical business areas and agree how you can work together through the growth pain.

Finally, if you're planning a big change (such as launching a new product), develop some 'what if' scenarios around the sorts of issues that could arise. Create contingency plans for each scenario so that if one of them (or a combination) actually occurs, you can swing into action right away.

Written by Derek Bishop of Culture Consultancy.

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