Customer service is a term used in a variety of contexts and situations to describe the provision of goods or services, delivered in a satisfactory way, to customers. Huge amounts of academic work has been devoted to the subject, backed up by corporate research and management consultancy a-plenty and a huge range of understandings and focuses exist – each claiming to define the nature, role and delivery of effective customer service.
Within the range of competing opinions and guides, one thing is clear – customer service has clear financial benefits for businesses. In a nutshell, those who deliver good customer service (within an effective operational framework) will generally do more, higher value and better business with their customers. Those who deliver poor service will gradually lose customers and revenue.
Customer service was once led by American companies who quickly learned that the front-end staff, the customer service advisor jobs and the customer service assistant jobs, were actually more crucial to positive customer experiences than many of the higher-level, more strategic jobs. Simply put, a customer will deal with a front-end member of staff far more often than he or she will engage with a senior level manager. So this means that to deliver good customer service, the front line staff must be trained effectively, rewarded and incentivised to go ‘above and beyond’ with their service delivery and understand the crucial role that they play in attracting and retaining customers. Often however it’s these customer service advisor jobs and customer service assistant jobs which are the least valued in a company. They will tend to be poorly paid and often staffed by temporary, flexible or less-trained staff.
This makes little sense. The customer experience is governed by the person they engage with on the front line, when buying goods from a business. No matter how strong the Marketing strategy, the price differential, the product feature or the advertising campaign – the initial competitive advantage can easily be eroded by a less than satisfactory customer service experience. This might be because the staff member on the other side of the telephone, desk, email or other communication channel is uninterested, unhelpful, ill-equipped to deal with the query, or lacks knowledge and skill to handle the customer’s query.
There is nothing more frustrating to a customer than contacting a call centre and speaking to an unhelpful advisor. Other common customer service gripes include customers contacting a company and not getting a timely or adequate response (if any response at all), customers speaking to an advisor who cannot complete the sale or query, or who does so incorrectly, or a customer who experiences initial excellent customer service during the period that the business is trying to win their custom – only to find extremely poor customer service later down the line, once they are tied into a service contract. This has been a common complaint recently with a number of service businesses including banks, telecoms providers, broadband providers and insurance providers, who may offer different contact routes depending on whether the individual is a new customer or existing.
Bad customer service can lead to bigger problems for a business too if they are governed or regulated. For example, OFCOM is the regulator for the telecoms industry and investigates customer complaints into poor service provision as part of its remit. With modern social media and the influx of viral marketing too, bad customer service can immediately be shared with a vast number of other potential customers – social media platforms particularly make this very easy and frustrated customers will share their experiences with a company very openly.
This of course can sound a little worrying for a business attempting to build a good customer service ethos. However, the good news is that it is possible to make great strides with customer service, making use of training, technologies and organisational culture. For example, customer relationship management systems and contact centre management technologies can help those employed in customer service advisor jobs or customer service assistant jobs to find the information they need about a customer, their service and query history and pertinent updates and facts about their account. This is particularly valuable for large organisations where a customer may not have the luxury of a single named account manager.
Good training can really benefit those in customer service advisor jobs or customer service assistant jobs, as well as their managers – to deliver an enhanced customer service experience. This might be training in face to face customer service and the law around sales of goods acts for front-line retail staff, through to effective customer management and service for call-centre staff dealing with telephones, live chat streams and internal systems and databases. Training should be delivered regularly, to all staff and be followed up by regular refresher sessions and other knowledge building opportunities within the company. Mentoring and coaching systems can also be very effective – where more experienced members of customer facing staff share their expertise and knowledge with more junior staff, to help them progress and develop the skills for the job.
Good internal processes can also greatly help customer service- so that promises are delivered upon. This can be achieved through LEAN processing or similar operational review and engineering approaches. In such approaches, the customer needs to be put first, rather than the needs of the organisation.
Internal culture is the other hugely important element of delivering good service. If a businesses’ directors lead from the top with the message that service is key and that they are personally committed to improving how they deliver it – this will set the tone of voice for the company and its direction. They can further implement strategies such as effective internal communication, customer feedback systems, staff performance monitoring, incentives and realignment of personal targets towards service-based goals and other approaches to start to build a truly customer-facing ethos for the business.
These steps will offer a business a competitive edge in the marketplace, if they can integrate their efforts to focus on great customer service and keep continuing to build their provision. It’s valuable too for businesses to constantly monitor the international marketplace to see what their competitors are doing – and make sure they stay ahead of the game!