Beating apathy

2008-04-07 00:00

Over the last three weeks, I have been evaluating the whole question of product quality and customer service, to outline important considerations that need taking into account in difficult operating conditions.

For a whole set of reasons, the South African buying public has developed what can only be described as a distinctly apathetic attitude towards everyday life. We go to the shops only to find the products we need are not on the shelves. We take our car to the garage and it is returned with a range of new problems. Perhaps the impact of load shedding, and the ever-increasing price of petrol are contributing more than any other consideration to this apathetic attitude towards life. But in terms of a real business opportunity, customer apathy needs to be understood.

Most people want nothing more than the basics. However, the nature of our everyday existence has led us to believe we cannot expect even the basics. An acceptance that we must live with a standards well below the price asked develops apathy and at times — in fact, often — this apathy even becomes something far more corrosive — aggression.

It’s as if we believe there is no alternative but to accept poor service and poor quality.

Across many markets and companies, this is the day-to-day reality of service levels, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to be taken up by any company.

People are pleased if they get the basics — when the car is serviced and returned in perfect condition, clean as a whistle, their mood lifts 10 notches. The real opportunity from developing superb customer relations can be seen when your company delivers more than is expected. When people get more than is expected, they are happy and talk about your products or service, and recommend you to relatives and friends. They appreciate you, thank you and many even write to their local paper about the exceptional service you have delivered.

The basis for a strong, lasting relationship has been established between your company and your customer.

You, the entrepreneur, should read this column from the perspective of your customers or consumers. Put yourself in their shoes and try to empathise with them. To all intents, you are your customer — you feel like they feel, you want what they want. If that is so, you need to get your priorities right and ensure that every customer gets more than they expect. This can only be achieved if you personally check, check, check on every element of customer service to see where it can be improved. Part of this discipline will mean talking with your customers or, rather, listening to them. It will mean holding workshops with your staff and repositioning product quality and customer service, to ensure their role in delivering excellence is appreciated as their main responsibility.

Last week, I summed this up by asking: "How do we make love to every customer?". It is not so difficult — just give them the quality and service that you would want as a customer.

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