By Zac de Silva for ASB Bank (emailed to all business customers on August 14, 2013; https://www.asb.co.nz/story27302.aspx)
It’s always a thrill to find something you want – a flight, haircut or even tickets to that show you’ve been eyeing up – has been discounted. But nothing sours a sale-buzz faster than surly follow-up service. That frugal flight no longer seems such a good deal when it’s delayed twice then simply cancelled with no explanation or sympathy from the airline team. Saving 30% off a haircut seems more of a hassle than a highlight when you find yourself handed wordlessly to the salon junior. Customers who find themselves sitting next to the toilet door and ignored most of the night by wait staff vow never to fall for that restaurant’s discount dinner offer again. Yes, you may have saved money but it’s not a bona fide bargain if you’re treated like a second-class citizen. (And where we’re quick to crow about a good score on our Facebook page, we’re even faster to lambast a company who gives poor service – beware the power of social media!) The lesson is, you don’t need to discount your offering to give your customers value. In fact, many consumers are willing to pay more to be treated well. Leave the cut-price tactics to your competitors and pride yourself on customer experience and relations instead.
Whatever industry you’re in, wowing customers or clients with exceptional customer service will really set you apart from your competitors. North America’s Bain & Company did a study on chartered accounting firms a few years back. They asked 360 Chartered Accountant (CA) firms what proportion believed they gave really great service to their clients – 80% of CA firms asked said they were great in looking after customers and delivering a great experience. Bain then asked the clients of these firms if they thought they received great service – a lousy 8% said yes. Ouch. Bain then did a second piece of research on why clients leave their accountants. According to 1000 accountants, the number one reason was price, followed by technical efficiency. However, when the clients who had swapped firms were asked why, price only rated as the number eight reason, and technical efficiency the ninth. The number one reason? “They just didn’t treat me right,” said 67% of respondents.
This result is across the board. Rockefeller found 82% of customers leave a business of any kind because they’re disappointed in the level of customer experience received and feel that the business doesn’t care about them and this has been backed up by several well known large company studies such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car (who are customer experience legends). Another study reviewed various listed American companies known for being hugely focused (perhaps borderline obsessed) with customer experience, considering it their competitive advantage. Over the five-year period of the study, at a time when the S&P 500 was essentially flat, the portfolio of customer-focused companies produced a cumulative total return of 22%. During the same period, their competitors who were not so focused on customer service returned negative 46%. Pretty compelling stuff.
It’s not rocket science: people respond to being treated kindly. Get your attitude right and clients and customer will return the favour with valuable ongoing custom. As with most things in life, it’s often the small things that count. In 2008, when I was the managing director of Barkers Menswear, I won the inaugural KiaOraMai Awesome Service Award. What had I done that was so outstanding? I’d simply sent a replacement jacket to a customer who’d phoned with his concern about the way it was fading. Hardly a grand gesture, right? The point is, customers respond when a company makes an extra effort (and this guy nominated me for an award!).
Where possible, go the extra mile; do what you say you’ll do. Respond to every interaction: return phone calls, follow up emails, send through quotes in record time. Make it personal and ring them to confirm appointments or changes, rather than sending an automated email or text. Send them a Christmas card at Christmas with a handwritten message rather than photocopied corporate signatures. Say thank you. Let loyal customers know about sales in advance – or, even better, reward them with a special VIP evening every so often. Encourage customer feedback and – this is the clincher – do something about it when you get it. In short, do what you can to make the client’s life easier. Make them feel valued. I have one simple idea that would really blow away your customers but there is a secret code for that one (send me an email and I will gladly share it with you).
The interesting thing about great customer experience is that it doesn’t need to cost a thing – yet it’ll have a positive effect on your profits. You just need buy-in from your entire team to make it work. Make it clear that customer experience is important to you and your organisation, and be prepared to make it a company-wide policy if necessary. From there, the sky is the limit.
If you need any help to make your company or team really take flight, contact Zac de Silva at Business Changing for business coaching and advice: