Monday, 10 March 2008

Customer Service is king in the land of increasing product choice

What’s the definition of good customer service? We can all give examples of where we’ve experienced that warm, fuzzy feeling from being treated as a valued customer and perhaps even more examples of where we’ve been left feeling decidedly turned off after yet another interaction with an obnoxious customer services agent. But have you ever stopped to think about the quality of the product or service in each case… Good service relating to a mediocre product or worse, dreadful service relating to a supposedly excellent product?

Customer service; the good and the bad

Case in point – I recently went for a meal at my favourite local restaurant which is usually excellent for both food and service but on this particular occasion something wasn’t quite as normal. From the moment we stepped into the restaurant things got off on the wrong foot, we couldn’t have our usual favourite table and instead were stuck in the middle with waiting staff brushing past every thirty seconds. “Fair enough” I thought, “they’re busy and I can’t always have my own way” but then we had to wait ages for them to take our order after being seated which is never a good start!

When the food did arrive, the waitress seemed more interested in what was going on behind the bar than serving us and the meal didn’t seem to be quite as tasty as usual. Now whether that was because it genuinely wasn’t up to the chef’s usual high standards or because my taste buds had somehow been affected by the below average customer service, I’m not too sure, either way, that warm, fuzzy feeling was strangely absent. Again, when it came to paying the bill, what I would normally think is quite a reasonable amount for dinner and wine at what is after all, a supposedly upmarket restaurant seemed rather on the expensive side.

Fast forward to the weekend and my partner and I decide on the spur of the minute to visit the new Indian restaurant close to where we live. I was a little sceptical about being able to reserve a table at such short notice but was pleasantly surprised when the Restaurant Manager said it wouldn’t be a problem, (box number one firmly ticked in the “excellent customer service” category).

We duly arrived on-time for our meal and we were greeted by the warmest welcome I’ve ever had whilst being ushered to a discrete table that’s perfect for people watching (my partner’s favourite pastime!). After a bit of friendly banter with our waiter, we ordered our food which then arrived a short while later and I tucked into my favourite King Prawn Bhuna which definitely tasted better than I was expecting. More smiles and chatting with the waiter, an offer of complimentary drinks and it’s time to pay the bill. “Very reasonable” I thought this time (to be honest, it was perhaps a little towards the top end of the scale for an Indian meal for two) but I gladly paid and left a generous tip too… “We’ll definitely be going back there again”, my partner and I both agree.

….And the point being?

Now you might be wondering what I’m ranting on about (or thinking this person eats out too much) but what these experiences highlight for me is how a few small things can make a massive difference to how a customer perceives your product. It’s not a difficult correlation to make; excellent customer service can seriously enhance your product’s positioning in the marketplace and increase your brand value too. Likewise, poor customer service can do a huge amount of damage to your brand, costing you customer loyalty and affecting your market share (not to mention the bill your PR agency will charge for fixing the problem).

So my advice is this, you may have the best product in the world or you may be competing with fifty other suppliers in a highly competitive market place but in order to gain the competitive edge and increase customer loyalty, you need to get your customer service function spot on. This can be done by either:

a) Outsourcing your customer services to an industry expert such as an experienced contact centre, therefore allowing you to concentrate solely on what you do best, producing exceptional products, or by:

b) Employing experienced staff, maintaining high standards through continual training and immediately dealing with any issues that arise.

Whichever route you decide on, treating your customers as valued individuals will always ensure they have that warm, fuzzy feeling and stop you losing them to the competition.

We’d really like to hear your thoughts, should customer service be king?

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