Keith Gait

The Changing Role of Customer Service

This week is National Customer Service Week. A week in which we recognise the importance of quality customer service and the role that it plays in the growth of businesses nationwide. While one might argue that every week should be customer service week, it provides us with an opportunity to examine how it has had to evolve in recent years and what opportunities companies have to use best practice to improve their relationships with their customers to affect their bottom line.

Over the last decade, the ways in which customers interact with brands has changed dramatically. Online businesses such as Amazon have led to a rising consumer expectation for all levels of interaction to be easy and quick, in line with the modern buying process that everyone now enjoys. This expectation has similarly led to a drop in customer loyalty – with an ever-increasing array of brands and products to choose from, consumers are much more likely to vote with their feet if they aren’t happy and move to an alternative brand. This trend has been backed up by numerous studies, with Forrester predicting that customer care will overtake product and price by 2020 as the key differentiator for businesses and Gartner stating that 89 per cent of companies now expect to compete on the basis of customer experience. This is where businesses now find themselves – no matter their size, product or past successes, everyone must now compete on the battleground of customer service and experience.

For businesses with premium products at a high price, this is often an easier challenge to overcome. Customer service expectation levels are naturally high, which is easier for brands to meet and invest in. For those brands with a lower priced product, it presents more of a challenge. With our average bus ticket prices at Stagecoach South coming in at £1.85, this is a challenge that we are all too familiar with, but are determined to succeed .

It’s never an easy fix – it requires a significant investment (both in terms of time and money) and buy-in across the business. We’ve conducted a significant amount of research to understand our customers better, curated a dedicated stakeholder engagement agenda to ensure that everyone is fully involved in the process and begun a training and cultural programme to bring all of our staff along the journey with us – and all of this before we’ve even implemented new customer-facing initiatives.

With the planning and preparation that is required, it may seem like something of a mountain to climb, particularly when most businesses traditionally place a priority on operations. However, the business benefits are well established. McKinsey suggests that improved customer experience can increase revenues by five to 10 per cent within three years, with an added cost reduction of 15 to 20 per cent. While celebrating the vital role that customer service plays in business across the country is certainly worthwhile, it shouldn’t be limited to a week. We can all continually strive to adapt to customer demands, improve the way we interact with our audiences and ultimately reap the commercial rewards.

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