(As published in the Sunday Star Times, August 31, 2014)
I went to the supermarket last night and, to avoid the long checkout queues, I used the self-checkout. The yoghurt wouldn’t scan, I couldn’t find the button for the ‘Jazz’ apples, the steak scanned twice and then the machine wouldn’t pick up on the fact that I’d already put the chewing gum in the bagging area – twice. Which meant I had to call for help from the supervisor five times, three of which I had to wait for her to finish with other exasperated shoppers having similar issues of their own. And each time I felt like a bit of a tool, not being able to check my own groceries out unaided. It was definitely not my most pain-free grocery shopping experience.
The night before that I went online to check out movie times. I’ve heard Dark Horse is a must-see so I logged on to see what time it was screening at my local theatre. You’d think that seeing what movies are showing and when they’re on would be the primary function for a movie website, but apparently not. The website was rubbish – it was painful to navigate and impossible to get the information I needed – so I had to phone to see if it was showing at that cinema yet. Even finding the phone number was a bit of a mission, hidden right at the very foot of the web page, in small, semi-transparent font. When I rang, I got an automated reply and then no one answered when I requested human help.
Now, I’m all for using technology and streamlining processes to create a more effective and cost-efficient business. It’s very important for a business to cut overheads where possible and work on consolidating their costs and processes. But these days I’m seeing it happen to the detriment of customer service, which is a very slippery slope to go down. Sure, you may save yourself a bit of organisational hassle and money on staff wages, but it’s important to think about how your changes will affect the experience of your customer. And how that change of experience will reflect on you.
In some cases, you can actually stand out from your competitors by taking a step back in time and doing things the way they used to be done – with a focus on the customer and on old-fashioned service.
I’ve noticed two big New Zealand companies have done this lately and it’s reflected well on them, in my view. Z Energy took the stance that they were going to have forecourt attendants at every petrol station from 10am to 5pm daily. Sure, it means an extra staff cost, but you can almost see the relief on certain customers faces when they see someone is there to help them pump their gas. In implementing this policy, Z has effectively told their customers that their experience matters is important and that they’re focused on making life easier for them.
New World has done the same by going back to having dedicated bag packers. Reading the comments on their Facebook page, this personal touch has resulted in shorter queues and a less frantic experience for shoppers. Even more importantly, putting this in place has told New World customers that customer experience is more important to the Kiwi supermarket chain than saving a few pennies.
When looking at cutting costs and changing processes within your business, always ask yourself: what effect will this have on our customers’ experience? Is it worth it? Or could you go in the opposite direction and bring in some new customer-focused service that will cost you, but result in happier and more loyal customers? Can you in fact add value for your customers through your processes, rather than paring back? Your bottom line will thank you.
Zac de Silva is a business coach and conference speaker. For business coaching or advice, contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.businesschanging.com