A collection of articles written by Customer 1st

It's Valentine's Day: Love Your Customers (and Don't Stop Delighting Them)!

17th February 2011 | Posted in Customer Relationships

My name is Stephanie Edwards, and I am Director of Customer 1st International and a subject matter expert in customer service. I develop learning resources for companies to help them deliver exceptional service to their customers—and enhance their reputations as fantastic organisations to do business with. Recently, I have spent time supporting Accenture Academy in building some exciting and innovative new courses in customer service.

I have great aspirations for many loyal followers over the next 12 months. I am going to share with you some outstanding examples of best practices and new thinking in customer service. I am also going to ask you to share your stories and service delivery issues to see if we can offer some cost-effective solutions for you. My goal is to develop a customer-focused forum that will excite and delight and support your organisation in becoming more customer-centric.

First, let me emphasise that, whatever your job role, you have customers. Whether they are external, an end user, perhaps a large retailer or an internal customer, such as a colleague in the warehouse or in the procurement office, they are all customers. Whether you are a supply chain manager or a customer orders assistant, you are all part of the cycle of service excellence.

Consider a global manufacturer that employs thousands of people. Perhaps only 5 percent of its employees will regularly interact with an external customer—for example, sales or commercial employees. This leaves 95 percent of the business remote from external customers. However, everything you do with both internal and external customers impacts business success because your external customer service is an eventual output of your internal customer service!

Until the 1990s, many organisations thought of customer service as an activity solely concerned with the resolution of customers' problems. It was often characterised as "customer care." As such, most organisations were both reactive and passive toward customers. Activity was mainly directed toward cost control and, as a function, customer service tended to be both neglected and starved of resources—including human resources.

Now, most successful businesses, and those that have ambitions to remain successful, recognise that excellence in customer service forms an essential element of their strategy. Success in today's highly competitive environment is built on many foundations, and organisations that ignore the importance of customer service do so at their peril.

I was recently asked, "What made you so passionate about service delivery?" I replied, "I just got fed up being treated so badly, so often, and by so many." I have never understood why organisations do not value customers; they never understood the value of customer loyalty. And, yet, surely without customers, there is no business. Peter Drucker famously said, "The purpose of business is to create and keep customers," so every business needs to organise its service delivery system around the needs of its customers.

We must learn to love our customers, identify their needs, offer a personal service, deliver the promise, and, where possible, go the extra mile. But remember: the art of service is not just about achieving a high standard today, but about delivering it consistently.

In the UK, many of us have been glued to the TV programme Secret Shopper, presented by Mary Portas, who has been focussing on the retail sector, the telecommunications industry, and most recently, it was the turn of the estate agents. The companies featured all had one thing in common: they were treating their customers badly, consistently. Again and again, we are not recognising the damage we are doing to our organisations in terms of reputation and stakeholder value, let alone the impact on the bottom line.

All too often in business, we continue to be arrogant and believe our products alone are all that matters. Yet businesses that maintain this approach are surely doomed. Customers in most industries have enormous choice now. The Internet in particular provides us with many alternatives. Service delivery is the differentiator for every successful organisation, and never before has the customer experience been so important as in today's tough economic climate.

I am fascinated by the number of secret shoppers out there, but actually, what you really need to do is mystery shop your own organisation. You will gain a deeper understanding of customers' issues and frustrations and how keen they are to tell the world about their bad experiences through social network sites. There is nowhere to hide! So as business people, we have to confront problems quickly, efficiently, and professionally. To do this, a priority is to create an organisational culture in which employees are truly passionate about your organisation, your products, your services, and, most important of all, your customers. To achieve this, you need great service leaders. I am reminded of Dale Carnegie's quote, "When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion." That includes your people and your customers.

Senior managers need to ask themselves, "Are we doing everything we can to create the best possible experience for our customers?" Perhaps some managers assume that because their marketing departments communicate that the organization's service delivery "exceeds customer expectations," that they actually do. I call this corporate arrogance! It can be suicidal for businesses.

Your people are the ones to leave a first impression—and a lasting impression—on your customers. They also intimately understand customers' frustrations, and they often know how issues can be resolved but may not be empowered to make the necessary changes.

In 2010 I read in Harvard Business Review that customers were looking at companies to get the basics of customer service right, and that the era of delighting customers is no longer a priority. The research talked about in the article concluded that, "…delighting customers doesn't build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does." I think this is sad; are we going backwards? Customers' expectations are increasingly becoming demands. What is good for today is not good enough for tomorrow, so how else can we raise the bar if we do not continually strive to go the extra mile? How do we compete if basic customer satisfaction is our benchmark? I do, however, agree that complainants are on the increase and it is vital to resolve problems efficiently and professionally. It is also prudent to remember complainants can become your best ambassadors. The essence of my belief here is that if you love your customers, they will not complain, and if you get your service delivery, your processes, and your people right, then customer loyalty will follow.

Personally, I believe we need to get closer to our customer base (I call it "customer insight"), identify what customers' expectations are, and try to deliver the best possible service to them. Richard Branson of Virgin believes that you need to find good people and listen to them. "Assemble a great management team that has a vision, passion, and a real sense of ownership," Branson says. "Look for leaders who listen—both to employees and customers"

Will you stop delighting your customers, or do you plan to keep loving them? If the answer is the latter, then I am sure you will develop a truly customer-focused business that places the customer at the heart of everything you do.