In the current difficult economic climate, businesses are doing everything they can to try and secure custom. The market is changing – former models of brand loyalty are being swept away and companies can no longer afford to be complacent. Customers are becoming increasingly price-conscious and willing to switch to new brands and services on the basis of better price, better availability, or better customer service. This is being facilitated by the internet – making access to comparison information and online switching far quicker and easier. Equally, customers are becoming far more savvy about purchasing, necessitated by their own stretched budgets and limitations of personal credit and thanks to greater awareness and communication about the relative benefits of different brands and providers.
The impact of the digital age has been truly phenomenal. Not only does it offer customers more direct and often cheaper routes of purchasing goods and services, it also facilitates and allows conversations between infinitely larger groups of consumers, in real time. This can be a huge win for businesses that are delivering good customer service and customer experiences – and terrible for businesses consistently failing to perform. Witness the complaints generated about big brands on Twitter or Facebook as frustrated customers express their terrible experiences to their contacts – spreading potentially damaging publicity for that brand. And yet, this phenomenon needn’t terrify corporate directors, because social media and online has the power to transform customer relationships too – by turning around bad experiences, by proactively getting in touch with customers, offering them solutions to their problems and engaging with them positively as a brand. For example companies can use social media channels to positively demonstrate green credentials and highlight a Corporate Social Responsibility Campaign – both examples of activities greatly valued by modern customers, who are suspect of traditional PR channels and activity.
Customer service does remain king and everyone instinctively knows what good service looks like – positive interactions between customer and the business representative, professionalism of service, ability to fulfil promises and ideally over-deliver on expectations, commitment to pleasing the customer and building an ongoing relationship and ensuring that every customer contact ends satisfactorily for the customer. Customer satisfaction causes customers to return time and time again and to purchase more from a company. It leads to positive conversations – a powerful form of viral marketing where reputation is spread via word of mouth, when customers share their good experiences with friends, family and other contacts. Such messages are far more powerful recommendations and inducements for other potential customers to engage with a business, than paid-for advertising which is increasingly viewed with suspicion by an ever more educated and cynical public.
Despite this, many businesses are still woefully poor on customer service, particularly those who have built large operations on the back of big-scale, low cost models, where operational efficiency and cost minimisation is valued above customer service. This may work in the short-term for transactional goods, but is unlikely to create any long-term customer loyalty. Operational features such as chargeable contact telephone numbers and overseas contact centres are regular topics of complaint for customers, along with unhelpful or ill-informed staff. Typical experiences of bad service include attempting to return a bought item in a retail store and finding unhelpful or unwilling staff, seemingly ill informed about consumer rights, or endlessly held calls on IVR call-centre systems, before being transferred through a series of operators with differing levels of ability with English and little knowledge or prior information about the problem the customer is calling about. These instances are typical and it seems that certain businesses are yet to implement a customer focused ethos, seen so prominently in other economies such as the USA and increasingly, in the emerging Asian economies.
Certainly, for a business to attract and retain customers nowadays, customer service is essential, regardless of the product or service. Even low cost transactional goods or services require service and there is a raft of technology available to deliver it effectively. For jobs in customer service Manchester is one of the leading cities with high-tech delivery channels for staff, including online chat, social media communication, ‘intelligent’ customer service thanks to advanced IVR systems, customer interrogation and CRM systems and advanced databases.
Staff are the other integral element of a customer service strategy and this is clear by searching the job ads at any one time. For jobs in customer service Manchester and jobs in customer service London both cities lead the way as regional hubs for job opportunities. The important thing is, for hiring customers to value and train these staff to their full potential – engaging with them, offering mentoring, structured training, internal communication, incentives and rewards to retain staff. Without this, jobs in customer service London and nation-wide will be filled with short-term, regularly changing staff who never become fully committed to the role and developing into more advanced customer service positions.
Jobs in customer service London and beyond also need to be viewed as more integral to a business than they currently are – staff working in these roles are the front-line of the business and the brand’s representatives. The customer experience will be with them and as such, they are just as important as the management team. The customer service industry needs to be invested in for accredited training, research and development, better paid positions for jobs in customer service Manchester and a greater interest and positioning within businesses, so that customers also start to see the benefits. Until staff in these roles are valued and treated accordingly, so they grow and have pride in their roles and the operations and ethos of a company is focused strategically on the customer, service levels will still be variable and have great room for improvement. With the economy currently desperate to tempt customers back into spending with businesses, the gauntlet for better customer service has effectively been thrown down. It will be interesting to see how businesses respond to the challenge.