In difficult economic periods, one of the great saviours of a business is customer service, as several companies have proven over the past few years.
In a negative economic climate, there are just a few great drivers of a business, says Brett Whitford, executive director of the Customer Service Institute of Australia.
Clearly price has a major effect, as buyers experiencing uncertainty attempt to cut their spending. Convenience and stock availability are also important factors – nobody wants to spend time searching for a product once their purchase decision is made. The other major influence on business success is customer service, because buyers want to feel as if they have made the right decision by confirming it with a knowledgeable staff member. Plus, they want the experience to be a good one.
“It became obvious that Borders was going down when they started directing people to a kiosk in the shop to choose a product, rather than to a human staff member,” says Whitford. “People want a warm, personal experience whether they’re in a store or online.
“Compare the Borders experience to a little bookstore near our house. Whenever we walk past it with our three-year-old daughter, she insists on going inside because they have a lovely, comfy corner where a lady from the shop reads them books. That business will never be affected by the web or the big players because it’s got customer service exactly right.”
As Australian businesses experienced a positive environment for such a long time, and many didn’t even suffer too badly during the global financial crisis, some became complacent and began taking customers for granted, says Whitford. Businesses that put customer service front and centre, such as Booktopia, The Cupcake Bakery and property solutions company Rockend, experienced rampant growth during a period when other businesses were being forced to lay off staff and close their doors.
Strategise for customer service success
Businesses in Australia that do not currently have a customer-centric business model need to figure out what they’d like their “signature service experience” to be, says Whitford. In other words, what do they want their customers to experience each time they interact with the business?
In order to ensure that experience becomes reality, Whitford says managers should then draw up a “touchpoint map” or a service blueprint that outlines all the various touchpoints customers have with the organisation – from website to telephone to premises visits to marketing, and so on.
Finally, work out the steps that it takes to make sure all of these “moments of truth” actually result in the customer having the planned signature service experience.
“It’s like being served a lovely, hot meal on a long-haul flight by a smiling flight attendant,” says Whitford. “For that simple act to occur, the food had to be ordered and prepared offsite, then transported to the airport and loaded onto the aircraft, heated on the plane, then delivered to each seat before it went cold. If there is a failure at any one of these stages then customer service fails too.
“Working out the steps to customer service success, from recruitment to training to everything else involved in making every individual customer contact a positive one, is the equivalent of working out the steps to business success.”
You can set up an online shop and manage online sales using My Shop in a Box – a simple-to-use online shopfront, catalogue and website.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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