Wednesday, 3 December 2014

To serve... or not to serve

Customer service has been defined as "the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently exceed the customer's expectations" (The ACA Group, 2011). That's a nice definition. We aim to delight the customer.

I doubt that there are many businesses out there who don't start off with the aim of making their customers happy. Some businesses get closer to it than others.

But that doesn't help us with how we meet the aim. However, Paul McKinney suggests that by focusing on a few key ideas - the Four [customer service] Ps - we can lift our customer service game and delight the customer.

The Four Ps which Paul tells us about are:
  • Promptness: Ensure timely delivery, under-promise and over-deliver on times to allow for reasonably foreseeable delays. If there is a problem, contact the client and provide a solution for them as you tell them about the problem. 
  • Politeness: Greet the customer, and host your customer on your premises, smile: if there is a queue, call someone else to help those waiting. NEVER let a customer wait if there is a staff member in the building: remember that customers keep your business afloat, not staff. Say "thank you" even if there isn't a sale.
  • Professionalism: Be professional. Show the customer that you know your job, and will treat their work with respect and best practice. Lead by example so your staff know to find explain better, faster and cheaper ways for the customer, and improve what the customer is delivered.
  • Personalisation: each customer is an individual with their own requirements. Your staff will build a relationship with the customer so they feel that they are important as a key contributor to your business.
None of these ideas are new: none of them are radical, controversial or unusual. They would be considered to be fairly normal sound business practice. As Forbes quotes, "70% of buying experiences are influenced by how the customer feels they're being treated" (2014). So if we ensure that the customer feels that they are being treated well, then we have a happy customer.

Today I went to drop my husband's car off for servicing. I don't really know the people in this business well, but I have been in the building a couple of times a year for the past nine years or so. This also wasn't a lightweight service: it required a whole day, and was likely to cost upwards of $1000.

So at 8am this morning, I stopped by the Service Desk at Nelson Bays Motor Group. The Service Manager was assisting a customer, and I was waiting behind this customer. As I was waiting, I noted a chap working on a PC at the parts desk, one person in a glass windowed office of the reception area on a PC, and two other people having a conversation in another glass windowed office. Three other staff also came through the area while I was waiting.

Not ONE of those staff asked if they could help me. Not one of them met my eye or said hello. One young man asked me if it was my car blocking the way outside the doors, and I said "No -", and he went briskly away without giving me the opportunity to say "- but I am dropping mine off for a service...".

Even worse, while I was waiting, a chap from David Reid Homes came in, swept up to the counter ahead of me, and the Service Manager interrupted the customer he was still dealing with, dealt with this obviously much more important customer than either of us. He then returned to dealing with the first customer. While I was waiting, another woman came in behind me, appeared to get brassed off with waiting, and left without talking to anyone. I was served after waiting for between 5 and 10 minutes; the Service Manager did not meet my eye even then. I was not asked when I wanted the car, or if I needed a lift anywhere: I had to tell them what my requirements were.

What a huge difference to the garage I go to, Bowater Motor Group, where I go probably the same number of times per year, but have been a customer for a couple of years less. I have been guided personally to the Service Department by various engaging sales staff, I have been asked if I needed to be dropped off or picked up, what time I need my vehicle, and consistently get sent off with a cheery salutation. There is always someone to cover the service desk, and if there is not an expert free who knows about the situation, then the person who comes to see me will take my keys and ask for a phone number so that a service department staff member can call me when free to clarify my requirements.

The two businesses are probably only 200 metres apart geographically, but today were light years apart in terms of culture and tone.

The takeaways for your business?  Ensure your team delivers on Four Ps: Promptness, Politeness, Professionalism and Personalisation. If you treat your customers like they are special to your business, your customers will be your best free advertising.

Sam

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