How May We Be Of Service?
The focus of customer loyalty has shifted from points and perks to engaging people and creating customer experiences that engender loyal relationships. Customer service is fundamental to a meaningful customer experience and it starts way before point of sale. Everyone in the organisation has a stake in good customer service, but does everyone know how to deliver?
If your staff don’t know what good customer service looks like, you can’t expect them to practise it, and no amount of technology will fix that. So here’s a brief lesson from a man who should know – Koos Jérard Louw, corporate etiquette and international protocol trainer, and advisor:
Question: What are the basic elements of good customer service?
Answer: Good manners.
There you have it. Easy. And as a refresher on what good manners look like, he continues, “Behaving with good manners is simply showing respect. Address people correctly. Ask yourself how you make people feel with your approach and tone.” Also easy. There’s just no excuse for bad customer service.
Before you can engage your customers, you have to engage your entire staff, customer facing or not. Everyone. Customer service is as much a mind-set as it is an action – and it’s intangible, but powerful, when it’s entrenched in the corporate DNA. But you need to start the cycle with the people on the frontline. Great customer service starts with engaged, impassioned, loyal employees empowered to deliver it. You need to make an employee/customer connection.
Millennials and other challenges
Ever impatient, always connected, millennials will force a change in the way service is delivered. As a category, they get a lot of attention, but Barry Coltham, customer experience (CX) and operations director at Achievement Awards Group, considers the broader issue of delivering to the expectations of five different generations.
“It’s a big challenge, but also a big opportunity to embrace new media and technologies, to intimately understand the expectations of each group and how best to measure delivery,” he says.
Generational differences aside, we’ve all grown accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it. The customer service bar just keeps rising, and companies need to keep up with demand. But Coltham maintains the basic principles of quality customer service are constant: “Reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy, and responsiveness – principles from 1990 still apply today,” he says.
Disrupting the status quo
The internet has generated major disruption in the marketer/customer power balance. Jake Orpen, managing director of online consumer-insights company Nudge, sums it up. “The biggest overall effect has been that in the past, companies controlled where, when and how customers got service,” he says. “Currently that control is shifting quickly to customers.”
A much-quoted survey finding by Gartner put business on notice: “By 2017, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator.” (Taken from Marketing for Leaders Survey 2014.) Orpen has been around customer management long enough to see the cycle turn.
“Historically, businesses managed customer service as a grudge purchase,” he says. “In order to save money, they moved service delivery from outlets to call centres, and then from call centres to interactive voice response and self-help internet sites.”
That’s changing as more companies see customer service and a personalised customer experience as a brand differentiator.
Key to delivering personalised customer service is people with the attitude and aptitude to assume the responsibility. Orpen notes the shift from measuring operational and internal service key performance indicators, such as “time to answer” and “average queue length”, to focusing on customer priorities such as access, empathy and resolution. “Leaders here,” he says, “strive to make the service experience part of the brand. It’s branded CX.”
Technology, “leveraged to the maximum”, along with social media, big data, channel options and predictive analytics make up what Orpen calls a “complex new ecosystem”. It’s a whole new world of customer service.
Rewards and More, The Foschini Group’s (TFG) coalition-style loyalty programme, has fully embraced the CX ethos. Customers can earn and redeem vouchers across TFG’s 20 brands, including Markham, Totalsports, @Home, American Swiss and, of course, Foschini. Launched to a warm reception in 2011 with 554 000 sign-ups in the first year, the programme is currently surprising and delighting more than 8.7 million members and generating very healthy redemptions.
So how are they getting it right? “Quick and easy sign-on,” is the first response from Alex Emmerich, head of customer relationship management and rewards at TFG Marketing and eCommerce. And it really is. I signed up online in about three minutes. In-store sign-up at the till goes like this: answer five questions; get card from cashier; get rewarded on first purchase; and you’re in. To say there are no barriers to entry is an understatement. And then the relationship gets personal.
“The programme is highly personalised,” says Emmerich, “and we continue working to make it more personal, looking at behaviour and behaviour change at the true customer level.” By creating a link to each individual customer, TFG can deliver finely targeted communications, which makes for regular, relevant messaging at every touch point.
Timing, of course, is everything when you want to surprise and delight. Technology and advanced analytics make it all happen.
“Our systems are very agile,” Emmerich explains. “It takes five minutes to create a new campaign and have it ‘go live’ in stores, so we can reward customers in the right place, at the right time.”
And there are endless reasons to send communications and rewards, which makes for a personal, compelling customer experience.
Five ways to deliver legendary customer service
According to Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, “The goal of a company is to have customer service that is not just the best – but legendary.”
1. Be a legendary listener. How? Easy. Just listen. Pay attention and listen when a customer speaks to you about your programme. You have to become silent in order to listen.
2. Develop an attitude and aptitude to serve customers regardless. How? Forget “me, me, me” and what you like or dislike. It’s not about you – or your programme (or anyone else on your programme team). It’s all about the customer, and your attitude in serving the customer. Paired with attitude is aptitude. In the customer-relations sense, this is the ability, skill, talent, gift and capacity to serve customers.
3. Anticipate customer needs. How? You can only anticipate customer needs by listening or observing customer behaviours (see point 1). Avoid “one size fits all” programme scripts (and if you can’t avoid it, don’t follow it to a “t”.) Pair your observation of customer behaviours with what you’re “hearing” from customers, and anticipate your customers’ future behaviours.
4. Show respect to earn respect. How? The easiest and quickest way to show respect is the way in which you address your customer. The tone of your communication, through your programme, your call centre, your digital communication and your printed material, is vital. People love the sound of their own names – use names in abundance. And do it correctly. No one should ever be addressed as “Dear Edward Thomas”, for instance. Rather, “Dear Edward”, or “Dear Mr Thomas”, and never, ever as a “nothing” – “Dear member”, or “Good day … nothing”.
5. Observe and capture customer behaviours and evolve with them. How? Create opportunities within your loyalty programme to observe and capture (profile) customer behaviours (likes and dislikes), and address those behaviours appropriately. For example, if a customer shows regular preference for buying wooded Chardonnay, don’t keep offering the same customer a Sauvignon Blanc. However, be perceptive to changes in customers’ tastes and behaviours. They do evolve over time. The customer with a young child who was buying toys is now buying educational books. Lives change. Keep track of the customer evolution, respond appropriately, and you’ll have a customer for life.