Customers can be classed as internal or external. External customers include consumers or businesses who buy goods and services as well as suppliers to the firm such as agencies and lenders. Internal customers include colleagues, shareholders and other stakeholders.
Good customer service is important as it’s easier and cheaper to keep existing customers happy than to keep finding new ones. Word of mouth is a powerful method of marketing and a happy customer will most likely refer their friends and relatives to a company that they have had a good experience with. They will probably also be loyal and keep coming back. Conversely research shows that an unhappy customer will tell a minimum of nine other people about the problems they’ve encountered. Spreading bad news in this way undermines a business and damages its reputation.
Most companies have a customer services team who will be responsible for dealing with customer complaints and queries. However every member of staff needs to take ownership of customer care and be proactive when dealing with customers so that problems do not arise.
Under-promising and over-delivering is an often cited way to manage expectations and can be applied when dealing with internal colleagues as well as external customers. When working with or serving others we should put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and think ‘how would I like to be treated in this situation?’ and then deliver that. It’s also good to remember the classic Bananarama song title ‘It ain’t what you do; it’s the way that you do it.’
It’s not just about day-to-day activities however. The customer should come first in everything that an organisation does and this starts with business plans and policies that are customer centric. For example, companies should be asking themselves: are we selling products that customers want to buy? Are our systems and processes built around our needs or the customers?
Customers must also be considered when setting internal targets and key performance indicators (KPIs). A call centre may want to reduce its call waiting times and so target employees to keep calls short and answer the next call as quickly as possible. However this can have the knock-on effect of call handlers rushing calls and processing people rather than serving them. This means that they may miss opportunities and not provide extra information that could help the customer. A fast service can be at the expense of a quality service so things like this need careful consideration.
Training is also very important. Every employee must be aware of their company’s customer care values and be empowered with the knowledge, resources and skills to provide excellent customer care. There are many customer services courses available to help businesses train their staff. This can help give employees listening skills to understand what the customer wants as well as how to manage expectations and say ‘no’ when necessary.
At the end of the day the customer is the only person that can tell you what they want and how well you are doing at providing that. This makes research perhaps the most fundamental thing in providing good customer care.
Focus groups, surveys and testing panels are good ways to get to understand the customer and what it is that they need and expect. On-going research into satisfaction levels is also vital to give a company a feel for how it is doing. Mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys after the completion of a service or sale are useful tools, that once completed can be updated and used to set targets and measure performance against. Large-scale surveys in particular are great to identify areas of weakness that need to be addressed.
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