Serve Them Right: How To Maximise Your Customer Service

Companies’ perceptions of their customer service can differ hugely from those of the customers themselves. Find out how to bring your service up to speed

Customer service is about giving customers what they expect when they expect it. And contrary to what some people will tell you, it’s not the same for every business. The UK’s no-frills sector (airlines, supermarkets and restaurants within them) makes billions of pounds every year by giving people exactly what they’ve asked for and nothing more. Compare that to a concierge service, up-market finance house or luxury holiday company, whose customers frequently expect surprise gifts and meticulous service. Customer service is ultimately about meeting expectations. Even ‘budget’ businesses can fall short here. If you do, don’t expect customers to hang around. Busy people have little patience, so get it right first time.

Part of the problem is the perception most businesses have of their own standards on the one hand, and their customers’ view of those standards on the other. In 2011, global consulting firm Bain & Co published a survey showing that 80% of companies believe they deliver ‘superior customer service’. In the same survey, just 8% of the companies’ clients agreed they were receiving a superior experience. While it clearly pays to take stock and listen to your customers, here are five more things you may want to consider when attempting to win over customers:

1) Invest in your team

The greater part of your customer service originates from people, not machinery or software. Your team, as much as your website or marketing collateral, is your brand and no amount of marketing spend can make up for staff who lack experience, training and motivation – so invest in all three.

2) Make people aware of standards

Communication is everything. Let your employees know how you expect them to deal with customers. Do this as soon as your employees start working for you; then continue to refresh the message. Also, make sure you and your management reflect the company’s high standards.

3) Be responsive

It’s a great source of irritation – at least from a customer service point of view – when an organisation gives contact details but doesn’t put anyone at the other end. Make sure your phonelines, email enquiries, social media and snail-mail all have people available to respond as soon as possible.

4) Offer clarity

When trains are late, the second biggest complaint is always about the lack of information explaining why. It’s the same with any situation where customers are let down. It’s worse if they don’t know the expected degree of inconvenience and how long it will last. Information helps relieve the problem.

5) Act on feedback

Companies invest plenty of money questioning loyal customers about standards. If a problem crops up regularly, act fast to solve the problem and then report back explaining how you fixed it. Customers will appreciate your effort and will tell their friends.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK