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Six key ways to improve your customer service

Tuesday, 6 September 2011 | By Nina Hendy
Your business can’t survive without a steady stream of happy customers. But despite this, large numbers of Australian businesses aren’t putting enough emphasis on customer satisfaction.

 

A recent study paints the full picture. The American Express Global Customer Service Barometer included a random sample of 1,021 Australian consumers.

 

It found that a third of Australian consumers believe businesses pay less attention to giving good customer service, and that local consumers place a greater premium on service than other countries.

 

It also found that 25% of Australian consumers believe companies take their business for granted, while 10% think companies don’t care about their business – a result that has more than doubled from a year ago.

 

American Express vice president of world service, Christine Wakefield says customer attitudes towards service are clearly changing because people expect more in return for their money.

 

“Consumers say they gravitate to companies that are investing in the customer experience and going beyond the basic transaction to recognise loyalty and ensure their customers get the most value for their money,” Wakefield said when releasing the survey results.

 

Tricia Olsen is CEO of International Customer Service Professionals. She says that customer expectation has doubled in the past two years – a change that has been driven by the internet.

 

Most businesses fail in the customer service area by being unable to achieve speed to market and adaptation, she says.

 

“We’ve never seen a time where fast adaptation is more important,” she says.

 

“Right now the tolerance for mistakes is very low. And yet businesses that have been around for a long time don’t understand the importance of flexibility and being able to adapt to a new market.”

 

The tougher retail conditions have prompted some Australian businesses to lift their game when it comes to customer service.

 

David Jones launched a personal shopping service last month, which operates from flagship city stores.

 

Myer, which has long been criticised for its lack of customer service, has also reinvigorated its long-running personal shopping service, launching a private shopping suite in its Sydney store following the success of its plush VIP room in Melbourne.

 

Another example of good customer service comes from new Melbourne restaurant Little Red Pocket Japanese tapas bar in Little Collins Street, which has just introduced a new menu app that allows customers to order their meals at the touch of a button.

 

The bar supplies iPads for customers to order their meals, which doubles as a great marketing tool, enabling diners to upload photos of their meals to social media sites.

 

So what can start-ups do to ensure they offer top-notch service? Here are six key steps to get your customers smiling again.

 

 

1. Collect data


 

A simple way to improve customer service levels is to make the most of the customer data captured.

 

Shane Bywater is a customer service consultant and has worked with businesses like Telstra and Westpac.

 

He says that all businesses should create at least a simple database and start collecting information about customers, taking note of purchasing patterns.

 

“Some businesses think of this as sales but collecting data and communicating with customers in a way that doesn’t interrupt their lives is a great way to give good customer service,” he says.

 

“If you’ve got a sale on, customers appreciate knowing about it.”

 

It’s as simple as collecting customer names, email addresses and purchasing habits, he says.

 

Olsen agrees: “The first step is to consider how well you know your customers, so collect data.

 

“You want to be measuring your customer’s heartbeat, not their foot size. You want to understand what makes them tick and what their needs are.”

 

2. Empower staff


 

Customers hate being put through to the boss when complaining about customer service.

 

They would much prefer the person they are dealing with fixes the problem, so empower your staff to be the problem solvers.

 

Christopher Ride, managing director of IT service provider Interactive puts the 26% growth it achieved last year down to its focus on customer service delivery.

 

Ride says that staff can also feel frustrated if they feel they aren’t able to solve customer complaints.

 

“We let our staff know that they will never get in trouble if they put the customer and the business equal first when solving customer issues,” he says.

 

How a business initially responds to a complaint can make or break a future relationship, Ride points out.

 

“It’s a real test to see how a business responds when you first make a complaint,” he says.

 

“It’s like when you complain to a waiter about your meal and ask them to fix it – what happens straight after you complain determines how you view that restaurant from then on.”

3. Reply to emails


 

Email use is on the rise, and yet a vast number of businesses don’t read or reply to their emails from customers, Olsen says.

 

“So many customers have a query or complaint and prefer to send off an email, but often they don’t hear back for weeks on end, or sometimes don’t hear back at all.”

 

Businesses need to make sure they deal with emails daily. The other option is to pick up the phone and speak to your customers in person, which is a sign of great customer service.”

 

Businesses should also reduce phone hold times, which can cause huge frustrations for many consumers.

 

Find a way to reduce wait times, or at least give callers the option to leave a message so you can call them back, Olsen says.

 

And make sure you have a contact number on your website so consumers can get in touch, she says.

 

4. Don’t ditch the training


 

When times are tough, training is often the first thing a business will cut. But this is actually the best time to improve customer service levels.

 

Jason Kliese is the owner of Hairhouse Warehouse in Rockhampton. His store was singled out as delivering the best customer service out of all 132 stores nationally this year.

 

Kliese constantly focuses on customer service delivery. He meets with all staff for 10 minutes prior to opening the shop doors every morning, where he encourages staff to give top customer service.

 

He also sits feedback forms on the counter and customers are encouraged to fill them out.

 

“If any staff member is rated anything lower than a seven out of 10, I make them call that customer to ask for feedback on how they can give better customer service next time,” he says.

 

Staff also walk around the counter and face customers to hand over their bagged purchases.

 

“It removes that barrier between our brand and customers, which takes customers by surprise and they always appreciate this,” Kliese says.

 

5. Utilise technology


 

Australian businesses aren’t using technology to provide great service to their business, according to the director of experience consultancy Stamford Interactive, Lisa Wade.

 

For example, the company’s latest research indicates that 74% of top Australian websites don’t have a mobile presence despite the rapid growth of mobile web technology in Australia.

 

Investing in technology can enable businesses to provide a seamless experience for customers across multiple business channels, Wade says.

 

“For example, a customer should not have to repeat the details they have already entered on a website when they phone your business,” she points out.

 

 

6. Recruit the right people


 

It sounds simple, but actually recruiting the right people in the first place is a hugely important step.

 

Think about whom you want to represent your business and if the people you’re interviewing can do your business justice.

 

Bywater admits that training can be tough when you’re hiring part-time staff that are perhaps still studying, but says that doesn’t mean you should settle for just anyone to represent your business.

 

“The way to get around demotivated part-timers is to make your workplace fun and engaging, which will overflow to your customer,” he says.

 

“I recently got a haircut at a new salon and it’s the same haircut, but the experience was far better, which means I won’t ever go back to my old salon.”

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