David Cliff, Managing Director of Gedanken
David Cliff

Member Article

Customer loyalty doesn't come from box ticking

When is customer service not customer service? The answer, in a nutshell, is when ticking a box which says “resolved” refers to the satisfaction of a number-cruncher, not that of a customer.

Too many companies are focussed upon winning new business, rather than ensuring satisfaction among existing customers.

No matter how many people in an organisation incorporate the words “customer service” into their job title, it is generally easier to get hold of sales people than a member of staff who looks after existing clients. You can see it in the pictures and deportment of staff, the design of banks, building societies and offices. There are fewer operatives and portals for transacting business with existing customers, or machines are used and the attractive, barrier free, wide open spaces with smiling staff are there to greet new prospects.

In television advertising we hear phrases such as “sign up now” and “new customer offers” time and again. Banks or building societies offer excellent rates of interest which are, disappointingly, not available to those who have been loyal to an organisation, possibly for years. It manifests itself throughout everyday life, from car insurance to fuel bills.

However, the problem of poor customer service doesn’t start and end with such offers.

Often, customer service teams are reduced to scripted responses, aimed at concluding the issue in a way which suits the business. Other companies seem to make it difficult to speak with a person who can actually help.

This brings a de-personalisation of customer service. Consumers ask a question personal to them, so the response should reflect that. However, trying to build uniformity of process into customer service removes this individual responsiveness.

Academic research on the subject of anger shows that people who “lose it” when dealing with a company do so after four contacts, whether that is with a human or “electronic automata”. Up to this point, the customer has desperately tried to work in partnership with the organisation to seek sensible solutions. Surely the areas of responsibility within a company should be clear enough that finding the right person should take two contacts maximum.

Truth is when a customer complains, they usually want a solution, not a refund or to get out of a contract. A meaningful “sorry”, or for a fault to be acknowledged and rectified is often enough. Instead, you often get a relationship-ending resolution, quite often with no record kept of why this happens, removing the ability to stop it happening again.

Clearly, poor support is important to the customers affected, but the companies themselves should be equally concerned.

It is much more efficient to run a business which keeps its current customer base happy than one putting huge effort into winning new contracts, whilst haemorrhaging clients because the same endeavours are not made in keeping those it has happy. Of course, this isn’t your company’s experience, you are wholly committed to customer service and a great customer journey. How come we see so many disgruntled customers from the very same companies that profess this?

A loyal customer not getting the five star treatment afforded a new client may look to a company’s competitors for satisfaction. However, many customers are naturally conservative by nature and will tolerate dissatisfaction for a long time in silence. Busy people often don’t have time to shop around and only when the abuse is glaringly obvious are they motivated to move on, and it is typically cataclysmic with little likelihood of future reconciliation.

With recession, the premium on retaining customers has never been greater. Yet we still have sales forces and sales techniques that are ultimately focused upon new business; retention of custom is often relegated to a backwater of the organisation’s operation. Indeed, I know some companies have done away with a retentions department completely.

In such instances, the desire to win new business can work against incumbent service providers. Their customers will be new to competitor companies with attractive offers to lure them away from weak service.

One of the easiest ways to grow a business is to either sell more to the customers you have, or to sell the same service or product to more people. Neither of these can be achieved if every client a company wins is simply replacing one which leaves.

Perhaps the bottom line to customer service is ensuring each customer’s individuality is respected. People respond when they are seen as a person occupying a valued relational space with the organisation, with only four minutes of airtime before the customer services operative is penalised for inefficient call handling. If the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ is a truism, people need time, understanding and responses that feel unique to their needs, not simply a template of what the organisation is prepared to offer.

David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by David Cliff .

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