Service as a sustainable Point of Difference

In the UK over the last 4 years of the recession, large organisations have cut back on their costs in order to retain their profits in declining markets. This has been most visible in retailers like Tesco and the other multiples where our journey now from entrance to exit often involves no human interaction whatsoever. I accept that automated tills require investment but this short term pain is offset by long term gain from having fewer ‘heads’ in store.

Has the customer’s experience improved as a consequence of these changes? I think not. Certainly, if the recent financial results from all of the traditional multiples are anything to go by, the consumers have less loyalty and enjoy the shopping experience less. Was supermarket shopping ever enjoyable? Will it ever be enjoyable again? Fear not. There are opportunities here, and not just in retail.

Big Can be Beautiful

When I worked in the drinks industry for Carlsberg at the turn of the millennia, we realised that there were entrepreneurs who could persuade customers to visit their pubs, clubs and restaurants by doing things differently and understanding customer behaviour. Carlsberg “didn’t do pubs” but it certainly learned from pub owners that one of the keys to their success was service. In the late 90’s we grew market share and profits by giving pub owners the service they needed to meet the needs of their customers.

Carlsberg’s service orientated culture empowered all members of staff to take decisions to benefit the service our customers received. For instance draymen gave out point of sale and dispense equipment where needed and telesales operators authorised emergency deliveries without upward referral. It was immensely powerful because it was immediate and our competitors struggled to cope.

The Small and Medium Sized (SME) Opportunity

Working with smaller companies as I have over the last 12 years since leaving multinational corporate life, I have noticed that the successful companies adopt this speedy, empowered approach so that their competitors cannot keep up. I will share a few of the best examples shortly.

But before I do that (and you may feel that I am getting to it a little late in this article) what do I mean by Customer Service? Surely, it is about giving the customer what they want isn’t it? No. Not in my book. The customer is NOT always right.

Customer centric organisations appreciate that, whilst all customer are created equal, some of them grow up to be a right royal pain in the butt and are a high cost to serve with low chance of profit at the end of it. These guys need to be filtered out so that you can focus on the higher margin, low cost to serve priority customers. CRM Systems can facilitate in this process but that is for another article.

What Service to give?

“I treat my customers as I would want to be treated”. If you give your customers service standards that you would want, it assumes that your customers are just like you. They most probably aren’t. Misunderstanding our customers leads to failures and to them going elsewhere. Worst of all they probably won’t tell you why.

The more sophisticated customer centric organisations develop a greater understanding of their requirements as the relationship develops. Think here about the retailer who knows that a customer’s daughter is about to have a birthday and has thought about appropriate presents for the age of the girl or the tradesman who puts on shoe covers when entering a prospect’s house without asking. This second level of service exceeds customer expectations and puts you ahead of the competition. But it doesn’t deliver the wow factor.

The Sustainable Advantage

The third level of Customer service delivers something that the customer is so impressed with that they talk about it to their friends and to people like me who then pass on those gems to stimulate thought for businesses who are struggling to gain an edge. It becomes core to their Marketing and Sales efforts.

Example 1 – Locking wheel nuts

Tyre fitters all do the same thing don’t they? Advise, take off old tyre, fit the new one, balance. A tyre fitter I know makes a point of sustainable difference to his customers by giving them lockable wheel nuts for free when they have traded up to a premium tyre choice. He hands the car keys back with an additional key to unlock the bolts “to protect your investment”. Cost to him: £2.50 per wheel. Value to the customer – off the scale because he didn’t have to do that. He gains new business through these referrals.

Example 2 – A lottery ticket

Every Christmas our local independent travel agent sends us a Christmas card with a lottery ticket inside. There is a chance to win £millions but it is also their chance to associate themselves with our dreams – of a new house, new car and luxury holidays. “If you win, come back and book your holiday with us …” Cost £2. Benefit to the customer of being associated with their dreams? Priceless. We use them because of this clever emotional ploy.

Final Example – Cup Cakes

A Recruitment company I know hand deliver a dozen cupcakes to their new recruits at around 11.00am on the first morning their placement starts their new role. It helps ensure that the candidate is there, demonstrates personal service to their client and helps integrate the new recruit into the office by making 11 new friends at their break-time. Cost: £5. Value: substantial. They have won a number of awards and developed a great reputation after only 18 months of starting.

Whatever the size of your business, where is your Customer Service edge going to come from?

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