Have we seen the death of customer service due to recession?

I had a very interesting conversation earlier today with Derek Williams, creator of The Wow Awards (http://www.thewowawards.co.uk/ ). We chatted about a subject I have always been passionate about namely customer service and satisfaction.

When I was a kid, I had two weekend jobs. Firstly in a shoe shop and secondly in a bakery. One of my former colleagues at Dunhill used to call people ‘the great unwashed’ and in some ways she was right. People and customers come in all shapes, sizes and types. There are some we will respond favourably to and some we won’t. When I was doing my weekend jobs, I used to love to serve even those smelly feet! I saw it as a challenge and the different personality types were often part of the fun.

What the conversation with Derek made me think though was that the recession can present major dangers to true customer satisfaction. The business climate also prompts a number of questions about customer service. The key to future growth may well lay with those companies that can answer the questions. So what are they?

  • How do we handle increased requirements and demands on customer service when lower sales, margins and profits force companies to make cuts that include people?
  • Are customer oriented people born that way or can I ‘train’ my people to become truly customer oriented or do we recruit new ones with that mentality?

Do your people serve? What levels of service are the norm and what is going the extra mile?

  • What do my customers want in terms of service? Have I asked them?

The big question for me is how to ensure excellent customer service at the same time as managing the day job with less support and less people.

Below are some facts about customer satisfaction that are pretty scary. Ask yourself how you stack up.

  1. Fact: It is well established and documented that it is more profitable to retain current clients than to generate new ones. The cost of acquisition is zero! What are you doing in this respect?
  2. Fact: The most profitable and valid method to generate new business is through word of mouth referrals and customer recommendation. Do you have a mechanism in place for this?
  3. Fact: Customers are looking for value in the present climate and are more likely to look elsewhere if you don’t meet their needs. Do you know what their issues are?
  4. Fact: There is less and less true differentiation which means it’s ever easier for clients to switch suppliers. Have you identified both what makes you different and whether this is what customers want?
  5. Fact: Excellent service is a true differentiator. Do you go the extra mile? What is the extra mile?
  6. Fact: Few companies demonstrate they really care about their clients by formally checking on the key factors influencing satisfaction. A Harvard survey found that clients felt that 80% of companies felt they were doing a good job. Unfortunately, only 8% of their customers agreed! Only 1 in 24 customers will actively tell you they’re not happy. The rest will just go elsewhere Since few customers tell the truth when sales or account management people ask them how things are going what are you doing to find out?
  7. Fact: Research shows that 50% of customers will have a greater appreciation of you simply if you formally ask them what you could do better. When was the last time you conducted independent research?

Ultimately, the level of customer service demands which are growing despite the recession is something that is going to vex all companies. Larger companies often have a high degree of automation that supports the ‘management’ of customer service. However, how often have you wanted to kill an IVR router that keeps telling you to dial 4 for the most relevant department and that your custom is important only to find out when you do get through that you were meant to speak to the branch in Amersham not in Wrexham and could you please redial.

Ultimately, great service means more satisfaction, lower churn, higher margins, retention and profit. It also means more referrals and recommendations and great PR in terms of word of mouth.

I would argue that the most important thing you could do in this climate is to focus on great customer service.

I’d be interested to gather thoughts on how companies are approaching some of the issues. I will gladly post another blog with input.

For more info on GSA services or to chat about the above, give us a call or drop us a line using the contact form on the site.

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