No matter what business you are running, great customer service built around a strong company brand culture should be a top priority.
It only takes one off-brand encounter to push any customer sitting on the fence to take that leap of faith and take their business elsewhere.
And remember, if they do that, they need to have been pretty upset. Taking your business elsewhere can be a major upheaval. When your customers think that upheaval is worth it, there’s something truly rotten in your service culture that you need to fix, and pronto.
There are two types of customer service that we see as crucial to retaining customers.
The first is the ability to provide the products and services you offer in a reliable and competent fashion. The second is how service is delivered by your teams – or rather, how the customer is treated, pre- and post-purchase.
Both are important. Let’s look at why, and how, when done wrong, they can lose you the customers you’ve invested a lot in acquiring in the first place.
Reliable and competent service
Most customers will give your business the benefit of the doubt if something fails the first time. There’s a computer glitch, or the product breaks down. It can be quite easy to recover from this and delight your customer by putting the matter right as quickly and easily as possible without the customer having to go out of their way. (When you’ve failed, don’t make the customer have to do extra work – that extra work may just be taking their business to your competitor!)
Adding some compensation in terms of extra vouchers and products sweetens the deal and doesn’t cost you much – much less than having to acquire a replacement customer – that’s for sure.
Where you are in danger of losing your customer is if you don’t fix the underlying issue and the mishap is repeated. A customer can make one complaint and have that addressed, but repeat complaints about the same thing wear thin after a while and your customer is going to start looking for those greener pastures. Especially if it’s something they think really shouldn’t go wrong anyway – something core to your very service.
Let’s take the banking industry as an example.
Imagine No. 1 Trusted Bank upgrades its internet banking service to enable customers to transact all their banking on their mobile phone, getting rid of those pesky physical tokens and digitising the whole security experience. Great if it works. And customers reasonably expect it to work. It’s a bank after all. They have robust IT systems that protect their customers’ money.
So imagine when this digitised token service fails. What is the customer going to think?
I can’t access my money.
I can’t pay my customer.
When this first happens, the customer is going to think it’s a universal glitch and within hours the bank is going to apply a patch and the bug will be fixed. But that doesn’t happen. The bank is saying it’s not them it’s you. Troubleshooting doesn’t work and they put you back to that annoying physical token.
That’s a decrease in service right there and there’s no solution offered. But there are repeated bugs in the system over months with time lost phoning the bank for help or just abandoning mobile banking and going back to the desktop solution. Then your customer starts thinking, well if they can’t fix this, just how safe is my money with them? What else is wrong with the IT security? It’ll take just one more failure as the thread that broke the camel’s back and your customer will be off to pastures greener in a shot. There is an immediate disconnect with the company brand culture the bank portrays and the service it delivers.
Take your customer complaints seriously. They are golden opportunities for you to improve your products and services. And thank customers when they do complain. Most will just leave without a word. At least if they complain, you can do something about it.
So when you start getting complaints, go through your processes and systems. How did this happen? What should have been done instead? How can we prevent this from happening again? Where do we need to change our processes? Do we need to change vendors?
Do a serious overhaul and plug those gaps. It’s an investment in your business and your company brand culture that will pay dividends in the long run.
Treat your customers like the kings and queens they are
The odd product failure or computer glitch, as long as it’s fixed quickly and well, isn’t the end of the world, and your customers are likely to be forgiving IF you treat them right in the process. Service excellence is vital in service failure recovery. But it should be the norm, not just rolled out as a last resort when you think you’ve pushed the client so far they are going to jump ship.
You’d also think service companies would at least treat customers well at the beginning of the relationship. In restaurants, make sure customers aren’t ignored at the door. When a customer approaches your outlet’s till, are they ignored when they are trying to give you business? You get the idea.
Let’s take the banking industry again because service is critical here but sadly often not what it should be – especially when they all offer the same thing and service is really their ONLY differentiator. Imagine one bank deciding customers shouldn’t wait longer than 5 minutes in any queue. Wouldn’t THAT be an industry disruptor! And fairly easily done with a revamp in processes and the application of underused staff.
Imagine going to the bank to open an account and having to wait an hour just to be seen. It’s an easy challenge to solve – train all floor staff to handle this so any of those eight or nine staff hanging around doing nothing can jump in and help at a moment’s notice. When “it’s not my job” starts interfering with how the customer is treated, you have a problem. And I haven’t touched on the money going down the drain because staffing resources are laying idle.
Imagine getting to the account opening desk only to have some upstart staff member serving you have an attitude you would slap right out of them if the law allowed. What a great start to the relationship. I’ve actually walked out of a bank opening procedure in the past for this reason – hey, I had seven or eight other banks to choose from. It wasn’t my loss. (Well, except for my time, because I DID wait an hour to be seen, muggins as I was.)
So train your staff. Develop a strong company brand culture and align all your staff with it. Make sure client-facing officers have the temperament to be service staff in the first place and then train them to excel.
Don’t make it so they turn nice when a customer threatens to leave. Have them treat every customer with the same dignity and respect they’d treat your VIP customers.
Remember, when a customer feels special, they’ll forgive most product/service delivery failures.
What very few customers will tolerate, however, is being disrespected or made to feel unappreciated.
There’s usually very little difference between you and your competitors. So if you give your customers enough of a push, they will walk. The one way you can stand out as a brand is through delivering excellent service that makes the customer feel appreciated.
Appreciate your customers. How can you serve them better today? After all, they are why you are still in business!
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