The customer is always right

No doubt, when it comes to customer service, there are variations on a theme.  Equally, there are variations between what we think ‘good service’ is and what good service could and should be.  This blog post explores this and raises some questions to get you thinking.  It isn’t intended as gospel, but start-ups and small businesses are encouraged to consider good customer service practices as sound business advice.

Gone are the days when the ‘customer was always right’.  A bold statement, but there was a time when it went without saying; ‘the customer is always right’.  If nothing else, isn’t it ethical to consider your customers’ likes, dislikes, wants and needs?  I’m not advising you to act on everything your customer, lead, enquiry voices.  I am advising you to listen to the ‘voice of the customer’.

The Voice of the Customer (VOC)

VOC is a Lean Six Sigma term, which is used to describe the requirements of the customer.  This includes the stated and unstated requirements.  It’s a process to capture and log feedback.  This can be from internal and external customers.

The VOC process is about being proactive and capturing changes in requirements.  This means it is important to constantly innovate.  There are a number of ways to do this, including; focus groups, warranty data, direct discussion and/or interviews, surveys, customer specifications, observations, complaints etc.

Customer Service is a process, with a start, middle and an end

The customer service journey includes the pre, during and post-sale purchase experience and beyond.  For example; consider customer retention, repeat business and how this is achieved through brand and remarketing.

When exactly does the customer service process start?  Is it when a customer calls or emails for the first time?  What about when an existing customer makes a complaint?  Alternatively, is it during the lead, enquiry and/or conversion stage, when potential customers are drawn in through marketing?  It’s all these things and more.

The customer service journey is continuous.  Each and every touch point between a business and a customer, involves service.  The extent to which may vary.  It’s about quality, professionalism and the impression or experience a customer is left with.

Two sides to every experience

A negative experience could have damaging consequences, particularly for start-ups.  In contrast, by being authentic, honest, helpful, friendly and courteous, goes a long way to securing the future.  After receiving negative feedback, it is important to acknowledge it and apologise to the customer.  Whilst we may not have been directly involved in the customer service failing or fully understand and appreciate how the customer felt, it’s about owning the problem.  Admitting mistakes happen, demonstrates honesty, which builds trust.

Furthermore, it is advisable to listen to the reasons and try to understand how the customer thinks and feels.  It doesn’t mean agreeing to everything a customer advises you.  There are two sides to every story, and it is important to log customer feedback.  By recording customer requirements and feedback, we can identify patterns in behaviour and common trends.  Be authentic and be open to making changes and addressing issues.

In the end, we have different opinions, interpretations and outlooks.  We have different likes, dislikes and what we deem to be good, bad, average etc.  As a human race, we are born without judgement, without the desire or need to distinguish between what is good, bad, average etc.  Over time, we learn and adopt beliefs, values and make assumptions. Whether these are true or not is open to debate.

As a general rule, and at its core, surely good customer service is when ‘we’ feel like our purchasing experience has been professional, friendly, helpful and efficient?  That aside, there are so many different inputs and outputs to customer service, how do we even quantify what is ‘good customer service’?

What Influences the Customer Service Experience?

Let’s consider the factors that influence customer service and whether or not, we come away with a ‘good customer service’ experience.

There are a number of factors to consider:

  • Cultural and social – including differences in expectations, values and beliefs
  • Knowledge and experience – including availability and desire to provide effective training and business coaching
  • Leadership styles – including whether or not business owners and leaders collaborate and communicate effectively
  • Technology – including the impact of digital transformation, automated processes and the impact that technology and social media, apps and tools has had on the customer service experience
  • Economic and financial – including whether or not a business strategy has the resources and funds available to invest in customer service and listening to the voice of the customer
  • Marketing and sales – including the types and style of strategies

There are several factors and variables involve and so it’s not surprising customer service varies between organisations and the people who provide ‘service’ to customers.  Let’s not forget the customers’ themselves too.  How would you react to a customer who shouts down the phone?  What impact does tone, attitude and behaviour have?

It’s no surprise that our experiences of customer service can vary wildly.  Even from the same company.  Maybe we’ve had a bad day, we’re upset or frustrated.  These things affect our experience and, in the end, whether or not we write a positive or negative review, refer/recommend to friends or family and whether or not we repeat buy.

We are different, we think, feel, react and behave differently.  We interpret customer service in different ways.  Plus, with marketing often making promises to attract and win consumers over, what impact is digital marketing, social media and technology having on customer service?  Has this changed in the last +decade?  Food for thought.

Business advice to start-ups and small businesses

The provision of good customer service is imperative, if not crucial to the success, reputation, sustainability and scalability of your business.  Ultimately, the difference between good and bad customer service could differentiate you from the competition.

As a business owner, make sure you listen and hear what your customers have to say, what they think and feel.  Not only that, act timely and address issues.  It could be the deciding factor in repeat business, future growth and the success of your start-up.

With social media, digital transformation and technology advances, customer service is more often than not, in the limelight.  With the likes of Trust Pilot, Google My Business etc. as sources of customer reviews and star ratings, the voice of the customer can no longer be washed over.  Be vigilant, be proactive, know and listen to your customer.