Friday, 3 January 2014

Why Changing Attitudes is Key to Improving Housebuilders’ Customer Service Offering

With the new homes industry as competitive as ever and the government's "Help to Buy" scheme increasing demand, housebuilders have never been under more pressure to distinguish themselves from their competition. But despite new homes being at the epicentre of political and topical discussion, how many new home builders have really stamped their brand authority onto the market place?

Whilst housebuilders have done a great deal of work to promote the quality of their offering, developing a brand and a respected identity requires more than just slick advertising.

Speaking to Showhouse magazine before the New Year, EWA's Michael Mosley, suggested that housebuilders should focus on the quality of their customer experience in order to build a better image of their brand.

"People talk about promoting the new homes industry louder, but what about quieter? Branding is not and never has been an advertising campaign – branding is something you live."

No great brand can get by without a great product offering and focusing advertising campaigns around the quality of new builds plays an important part in building a positive identity. But in an age where a competitive marketplace and the forum of social media has never given consumers so much power, focusing on the product alone isn't enough any more.

"When you walk into a Five Star hotel you expect excellent customer service. Before you've seen the room, used the bar, or checked in, so much of what goes on has already been a Five Star experience" continued Michael.

"But according to our own research, homebuilders simply aren't doing enough to maximise the customer experience, with consumers consistently feeling ignored when making enquiries."

"'They've ignored my online enquiry'; 'They've ignored my voicemail'; 'Once I bought my house they ignored my problems' – this appears to be the shocking norm of the industry."

"So let's change those comments into: 'I couldn't recommend a new home enough,' or 'They were so helpful and even after I moved in, the service was excellent.'"

 Michael commented further, going on to say:

"It will change when the industry starts treating people who buy new homes as customers and not as cash cows. Another hotel analogy: Premier Inn. I get a decent bed and a great service every time I stay there and it doesn't matter what the location is, I will recommend them. If I recommended a housebuilder to a friend in the Midlands because of my experience in Cornwall, I will bet good money that their experience won’t be the same."

Improving the quality of customer service within the industry requires a real change in attitude, with a need for new home builders to embrace customer service completely across their organisations and at all levels. The sooner housebuilders begin to embrace change, the stronger their brand identity is likely to become. The overall message? Acquiring leads and enquiries is important – but finding a way to generate advocacy through consistent customer service is arguably even more vital.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Fighting Back Against Customer Churn

In this sustained period of economic gloom that businesses are continuing to battle within, the fight to attain new customers has never been more important. But while so many of us are focusing our resources on bringing new customers to the table, organisations of all shapes and sizes are continuing to take existing ones for granted.

Battling against customer churn is a perpetual reality that businesses have always had to face. But in a retail environment which has given customers more power and choice than ever before, keeping hold of your existing customer base is no easy task. Certainly, with a recent study by the Institute of Customer Services (ICS) revealing that British firms fear losing 10% of their customer base over the next three years, increased customer churn spells bad news for business.

What is customer churn?

Customer churn – also known as customer attrition – is in its simplest guise, the loss of clients/customers. The logic behind customer churn is the notion that it costs businesses a lot less to retain a customer than it does to attract a new one.

With the same ICS study placing the cost of replacing that customer in excess of £6,500 as of 2011, there’s a strong incentive for British businesses to centre their efforts on maintaining their customer base rather than simply adding to it.

But why is this now such a problem for businesses?

The concept of customer churn is nothing new, with the loss of some customers an unavoidable reality for businesses of all sizes. But with customers now possessing an abundance of choice in the digital age and a stronger resistance to more traditional forms of marketing, the retailer is no longer in complete control. When you add to this the challenging economic circumstances that British enterprises have had to deal with, retaining customers has become increasingly difficult.

ICS’s study also underlined exactly why businesses’ shouldn’t be underestimating the power of customer retention. Nearly 65% of customers are spending less with 86% admitting they now take a lot more time to shop around and research the best deals available before they purchase. Once they’re gone, winning back defecting customers has become an almost impossible task.

So what’s the key to preventing customer churn?

Nearly two thirds of UK business leaders agree that customer service is likely to be a key market differentiator over the next few years. Poignantly, this is something that customers are also in agreement with – a staggering 83% identified quality of service as an important driver of loyalty.

But here’s the disconcerting truth that businesses have to face up to - the vast majority of customers believe that their defection to another company could have been prevented.

Customers are loyal by nature, but are growing tired of poor and misleading customer service. With many companies sacrificing their investment in customer service as a result of the economic climate, the culture of unhelpful customer service has only been exacerbated.

What can I do to fight against it?

It’s time for businesses to stop viewing customer service as an extension of their business and start viewing it as an integral element that’s imperative to growth.

Look to place an emphasis on making your customers feel valued at every single touch point. Optimising your existing service network is always the best place to start. Ask yourself the following:

How long is it taking us to respond to enquiries?
Are we dealing with those enquiries in a clear and coherent manner that always offers customers the solutions that they need?
Are we equipped to adequately respond to these enquiries across all possible channels?

Whether you’re a fledgling SME or an established high-street retailer, the changing balance of customer power ensures that doing the bare minimum simply isn’t enough anymore. Customers need to be treated as individuals and whether that involves something as simple as apologising  for an error (and then fixing it) or a wow factor that’s a little more complex, always strive to create a positive memory during the service experience.

When broken down, the importance of maintaining and improving your customer service experience can feel like a daunting task. But taking stock of your current set-up and taking the necessary moves to solve any issues is vital in giving your business the edge.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Why new home builders must be prepared to handle the Help to Buy boom

With the government’s Help to Buy scheme getting off to a scorching start in the first two months since its April launch, new home builders are dealing with a welcomed period of demand.

Despite the uncertainty that’s surrounded the chancellor’s flagship scheme, the first stage of Help to Buy has attracted huge interest from aspiring homeowners, providing a well-timed boost to the industry.

But while home builders are welcoming the influx of prospective buyers with open arms, dealing with the added deluge of interest has proved difficult for some companies. With the UK’s tough economic climate currently showing few signs of respite, it’s absolutely vital that home builders are geared up to adequately deal with the Help to Buy boom.

Why it’s important to prepare for the continued boom

While the Help to Buy scheme’s affect on house prices remains contentious, there can be little doubt of the positive affect that it has had for homebuilders.

The first phase of Help to Buy – which allows buyers to put down a deposit of 5% and take out an equity loan from the government of up to 20% of a property’s value – has seen interest in new homes soar. Just this month, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) described interest in the scheme as “huge.”

Stuart Baseley, chief executive of the HBF, underlined the influx of interested that home builders were having to contend with.

“Four thousand reservations in just two months shows both the consumer demand for the scheme, and developers' commitment to it,” he explained. With figures like that and the second part of the scheme set to start in January, it’s imperative that home builders don’t underestimate the sustained influx of interest.

Why is this potentially a negative for home builders?

The boost in interest for home builders is of course an overwhelming positive, but for those who are struggling to deal with the unprecedented influx of enquiries, the Help to Buy scheme can produce some difficult times.

From sales departments struggling to reply quickly enough to enquiries, to failing to cope with responses over a variety of channels, the added interest means little if your company is unable to cope. Given the consistently competitive nature of the marketplace and the continued difficulties that the financial climate is producing, home builders cannot afford to miss out.

What’s the problem?

Sustaining an optimum level of service from the initial enquiry stage, all the way through to an eventual sale, is vital to keep your business at the top of the trade. Identifying when your sales arm is in need of of some help, possibly from an external source, is key to keeping this level of service the very highest it can possibly be.

But far from simply seeking an extra pair of hands, it’s important to consider the impact of increased interest across the entire sales process. Can you adequately

• Ensure that new enquiries are responded to promptly and assertively?
• Respond to all enquiries across multiple channels? (Email, online, phone, sms etc.)
• Accurately capture data in a dedicated database to seize the moment and help equip your business for potential follow ups and successful marketing campaigns.
• Qualify leads from a whole range of sources so that sales teams can concentrate on the most valuable prospects?

Making the most of the Help to Buy boom is important to all home builders, but with the continuous economic gloom refusing to subside, the incentive to maximise sales has never been greater.

It’s important that home builders can effectively manage enquiries all the way through from the first point of contact, to accurately reusing customer data for future marketing purposes. Maximising your conversions from enquiries to sales is always a key goal for businesses of any size. But given the golden opportunity that homebuilders have been handed through the Help to Buy scheme, now is as good a time as ever to re-evaluate how your company handles its enquiries.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

10 Cast Iron Customer Service Tips

Providing great customer service is essential for any business, from the local high street shop all the way up to the largest multinational corporations. Customer service however is not about simply providing countless sales and promotions; it is about building relationships, strengthening your reputation and ultimately achieving a healthy bottom line. But how do you build these relationships? Here are ten practical tips on how you can deliver the service your customers demand.

  1. 1. Give your customers a exceptional experience
    Ultimately, your customers want two things. The first is for you to meet a need that they have. The second is to meet this need whilst delivering an exceptional experience.
  2. 2. Keep your word and over-deliver
    Only promise what you can deliver and do everything you can to keep that promise. Broken promises breed distrust, so keeping your promises helps to build loyal relationships with your customers.
  3. 3. Apologise when a customer complains
    The first step of resolving an issue is to always apologise to your customers if the company has made a mistake. Then try and ask them if they have accepted your apology so that you can go forward and find a solution.
  4. 4. Treat customers as individuals
    Every customer wants to feel as if they are being treated like they’re the only customer in the world. Treat your customer as an individual, don’t generalise because of the limitations of your processes, at the front line, personal service is essential.
  5. 5. Give them that WOW Factor
    Do something to wow your customers, something out of the ordinary. For example, keeping your contact centre lines open 24/7 so your customers can contact you at the time most convenient to them.
  6. 6. Make them feel secure
    If you can prove that you can deal with queries quickly and efficiently, showing that they will always encounter a good helpful member of staff, your customer will feel more secure with keeping their business in your hands.
  7. 7. Never ever say No
    Never say No to a customer. Use language wisely, for example you could instead say that the request is outside of your service and that you will try your best to find the right person to fulfil the request.
  8. 8. Listen to your customers
    Nobody likes being ignored and customers who do not feel like they are being heard will go elsewhere even if your product or service is best. Subsequently, you can try to take on board their comments and work them into your service, at the very least, make them feel like they are being listened to.
  9. 9. Pay attention to the little things
    In the day to day delivery of customer service it is easy to become complacent. For a customer however this is an important interaction meaning they will notice the little things. So pay attention to them and the big things will take care of themselves.
  10. 10. Do something extra to create a positive memory
    When you’ve finally resolved your customers complaint, do something extra for them to leave them with a positive impression of you and the brand i.e. give them tips on how they can use the product or service better.
These are just ten of the considerations you can make if you want to deliver great customer service. Ultimately, if you make your customers feel special, deliver on your promises and listen to them when they comment you are setting the foundations of a solid relationship that over time will achieve repeat custom and positive word of mouth.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Excellent Customer Service and the Power of Brand Advocates

It’s a widely held belief that in many industries it costs five-to-ten times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer, which is why looking after your customers with exceptional service is a priority for any business.

Looking at the customer service experience from the customer’s point of view is essential in keeping customers and building relationships with new and existing ones, but it goes deeper than that. It’s long been established that the average satisfied customer will tell two-three people about their experience with a company and a dissatisfied customer will share their lament with eight-ten people to avoid the company responsible for the dissatisfaction (and that was before the days of social media). But what if those customers have a positive customer experience? Is this not just as powerful an emotion to share with their friends, colleagues and social media connections?

The simple answer is, of course customers that have a positive experience will share their thoughts and opinions... enter the brand advocate.

Brand advocates are a hugely valuable tool for businesses, providing a marketing asset and genuine opportunity for engagement with a well defined peer audience, contributing to the growth and profitability of the company. But as a business, how do you create brand advocates? Here are two recent examples I have experienced.

Providing Great Service

I have been using a certain shop for some time and they have offered value as well as reliable delivery. To my surprise, the shop was one of the biggest distributors in the UK, although I had no idea how big they were as each time I called to place an order they would always treat me like I was their only customer. They also seem to listen to their customers, are adept at finding a solution for any complaint and ultimately, make me feel like they know me better than any of their competitors.

This exceptional level of service leaves me satisfied, ensures I recognise their brand and is enough for me to choose them over their competitors. Going further, I will happily recommend this particular retailer to people I know, which is a huge step in trust and loyalty.

Investing in Customers

Another example is a close friend that is a passionate follower of a particular technology brand. Because of his support for their products on social media, he has picked up a wealth of free products and tickets to showbiz events. This is a “win win” for everybody involved; the technology company is able to turn someone who already follows their brand into a vocal advocate across the social media landscape, whilst the customer who receives free gifts, is made to feel valued and part of something bigger.

Understandably this won’t work for every business, but both examples have a common feature – the delivery of an outstanding customer experience. All businesses can learn that giving a WOW experience to customers is key to building loyalty, trust and advocacy. Whether it’s providing fast, convenient and reliable service, or being responsive to your customers’ needs and investing in them, customer experiences are now the key differentiator and can provide a competitive edge.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Value of CRM to the Customer Life Cycle

Whatever your business, whatever its size and whatever its proposition, your customers are fundamental to its success. This is why it is so essential to provide great customer service, to ensure that customers are happy with each interaction and are more likely to return in the future. Part of delivering exceptional service is building relationships with customers and managing them effectively.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is an approach to managing these interactions, either with existing or potential customers. Typically this is achieved with software that tracks, monitors and analyses each step in the relationship, enabling you to understand and nurture your customers’ life cycle.

The Five Stages of Customer Life Cycle

Speaking broadly, the customer life cycle is the different stages of a customer’s relationship with your business. The stages are:

• Reach
• Acquisition
• Conversion
• Retention
• Loyalty

On a simplistic level, the value of CRM to a business is being able to manage each stage, so that you can first grab their attention, teach them what you have to offer, convert them into a paying customer and finally keep them as a loyal (and profitable) customer.

Customer life cycles depend heavily on the type of service or products you offer and as such the way you approach CRM needs to take this into account. For example, you may have a long customer life cycle, like a child who sets up a bank account, grows up with the same bank, uses them for their mortgage and pension right up until the end of their life. In contrast not all customer life cycles are that long, if you are a book retailer it may simply be a case of advertising a new release, converting the sale and then following up with marketing around similar books over the space of three months.

It’s important to realise that CRM systems can be relevant to any customer life cycle, helping you to track the progress of sales deals, record particular customers and track the action in relation to the deal, using this data to then build on customer relationships. Customer insight of previous customer data can also help you map out exactly the next steps your customer will take, such as the products they are more likely to choose over other products and how long their relationship with you might last. By having such an understanding of your customers’ life cycle, CRM systems can also allow you to plan ahead, using data gained to forecast the number of new customers required if your business is to remain sustainable.

Ultimately, CRM solutions are crucial in managing each step of the customer lifestyle cycle but are also fundamental in ensuring customer relationships progress smoothly as part of your wider customer service objectives. Blended with effective marketing messages CRM has the potential to nurture customers throughout their life cycle, maximising the profitability of each and every relationship.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Contact Centres Metrics – Are You Measuring What Matters Most?

In the past the success of a contact centre operation has been measured with metrics based on efficiency, call duration being just one example. Today however, there has been a significant change in approach, contact centres are now measured by how effectively they serve customers, not just the speed at which they can do so.

In an age where customers expect a level of service that is personal, professional and delivers on what it promises, it is now about measuring ‘what matters most’ – the metrics that can give insight into customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction has always been a primary focus, but the explosion of social media has added a new dimension to word of mouth, making it more important than ever to ensure customers leave any interaction satisfied with the service.

That is not to say that metrics such as average call handling time should be discounted, they still have a place in optimising contact centres at an operational level, but their value in understanding how customers are being served is limited. With customer experiences being paramount to running a successful contact centre, metrics, like the four below, provide a far more qualitative view.

1. Service Level

The accessibility of your contact centre sets the tone of every customer interaction. Poor response times leads to an increase in bad conversations with customers, negatively affecting morale and ultimately the service provided. As such service level is the ideal accessibility metric for understanding the percentage of calls answered within the appropriate amount of time.

2. Contact Quality and Customer Satisfaction

To truly understand the quality of service being provided it’s vital that the customer’s point of view is utilised. C-Sat surveys following interactions are a frequently used method of gaining this understanding, and can be utilised to calculate on an individual level, a particular agent’s quality score and more widely, an appreciation of the overall service being delivered.

3. First Call Resolution (FCR)

FCR is a critical metric for contact centres because it has a significant impact upon customer satisfaction and costs. It should be a priority for all contact centres to equip agents with techniques and tools necessary to resolve calls in the first instance in the most appropriate way possible. Rapid, effective resolution leaves customers satisfied, which is why increasing FCR is a target for all good contact centres.

4. Employee Satisfaction

Probably the most overlooked metric in measuring customer satisfaction as it requires contact centres to look inwardly, but valuable nonetheless. The happiness of your employees correlates strongly with the service being delivered as unmotivated, unhappy agents will soon pass this negativity on through each interaction. The best way to grasp this metric is to undertake independent, anonymous satisfaction surveys, the findings of which can be used to shape future initiatives to improve employee satisfaction.

These four metrics are just a snapshot of how it is possible to measure ‘what matters most’ and ultimately provide the insight required to enable consistent improvement of customer satisfaction and experiences.