Golden rules of customer service

2012-12-11 00:00

SOMEONE said customer service is not a department, it’s an attitude.

International research tells us that the quality of a customer’s experience has a direct bearing on sales, profit and overall market position.

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, put it more colourfully, “There is only one boss. The customer.

“And he can fire everybody in the company simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

Cleary, everyone in an organisation should be concerned about customer care. Whether in accounts or human resources, every employee should constantly worry about how well the sales and customer care departments are handling customers — and should do everything he or she can to help them.

What is the key to superior customer care? Why do some companies get it right and some so spectacularly wrong? What can your business do differently?

I asked a few local companies known for their service, and whose care for their customers keeps me coming back, “What is your secret?”

Sue Malherbe of Coffeeberry Café was clear: “Look after your staff. We try to focus on making our staff happy, because, if your staff are happy, they will pass it on to your customers.

“You also end up with lower staff turnover, which makes for better relationships with customers.”

That was confirmed for me as one of the waiters brought a cappuccino to a customer who had just arrived with a friend.

The customer was very embarrassed because she was not staying for coffee this time, but she was clearly very pleased to be known and remembered.

International trend watchers agree with Sue. They tell us that the shift is away from putting focus on the customer, to putting it on the employee who delivers the customer experience.

Warwick Hulbert of Moffatt Optical said: “Think about what you want when you walk into a business, and make sure you give it to your customers. Make the customer happy whatever the cost.”

That’s a scary idea, but it pays for itself over and over in customer loyalty. Warwick reminds us that no one has ever won an argument with a customer, because customer service is not what we do, but what our customers experience. As someone said: “Everyone makes mistakes; it’s what happens next that matters.”

Donovan Reddiar of the MTN outlet located in Cascades recognises the difficulties his customers face, and tries to make it easy for them to do business with MTN. “Understand where your customers are coming from. They won’t follow all your rules and regulations [such as keeping warranty forms for 12 months]. How can you make it easier for them?”

How easy is it to do business with your company? Have you checked your website lately? Do all the links work? Are all the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses correct? Do the receptionists know where to direct customers, even those with unusual requests?

Sandra Gjersoe of Johannesburg-based CBM Training told me about an unusual training request she had received.

When the potential customer asked doubtfully whether CBM could cater for his unusual needs, she responded: “But that’s all we ever do.” What a refreshing response, and how different from the more common: “If it’s not on the menu, you can’t have it.”

Customer service (good or bad) is what your customers talk about.

How far will you go for your next customer? Who in your organisation need to be reminded of their role in the customer experience?

Ian Webster is from Simply Communicate, a training and development company.

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