At the end of last year, I was booked on a flight from Goa to Mumbai. Two hours before the flight, I received a text message from the airline saying the flight was cancelled due to bad weather. And that was it. You might assume that this was a budget operator, but no, this was from an airline who purport to be ‘full service’ at the luxury end of the market. If this was an isolated example, it would be unfortunate but sadly this level of customer service is becoming commonplace worldwide.
Studies suggest that 82% of us have stopped using a company because their customer service is so poor. We’re so desperate to encounter good customer service that we are even willing to pay more for it- 25% more says the same study. But in this connected age, where customers can swiftly publicise negative experiences, what constitutes good customer service and how can we ensure that customers come face to face with it every time they interact with staff?
Contrary to popular opinion, from both customers and brands, customer service is not an elderly aunt to be wheeled out when things go wrong, to pacify and soothe ruffled feathers, but planned activities to ensure those feathers don’t become ruffled in the first place.
We hear lots about needing to take a holistic approach to customer service, but what this really means is that the commitment to customer service must infiltrate into every area of the organisation. When each person is aware of the importance of customer service, it becomes the responsibility of everyone within the organisation rather than passed off to a department in the corner.
US telecommunications firm Comcast are taking an innovative approach to their customer services, with their Chief Customer Experience Officer post held by Charlie Herrin who was previously Senior VP of Product Design. Herrin said: “The challenge I have is making sure that our team think about the customer service experience all the way through. Not just when it’s working.”
Their products aim to monitor the experience of the customer to not only alert the customer to an issue, but to advise them what they’re doing about it and keep them informed all the way through.
Of course, no matter how proactive and planned an organisation is in its approach to customer service, there will be instances where things go wrong. These may even be outside of the control of the organisation, such as with my flight to Mumbai being cancelled due to extreme weather.
What the company can control, however, is their response when things go wrong. And if that response isn’t up to scratch, customers will simply switch.
One way that this plays out for organisations is through social media, with more and more consumers heading to social media to voice their complaints, experiences and even their delight. It is down to the organisation to ensure that the response is both appropriate and comes swiftly.
Alaska Airlines received the SimpliFlying 2017 best in customer service award for social media, down to its commitment to assisting customers in 15 minutes or less, 24/7. The airline says it uses real people to have real conversations, citing instances like poor weather.
Mary Avey, MD of Customer Service said: “When airlines deal with bad weather or other operational interruptions, social media lights up. It’s critically important to be there for our customers in real time.”
Alaska Airlines strategy of being extremely proactive in their interactions with customers appears to be sound, but do customers want even more than this? A 2017 article in the Journal of Marketing ‘the benefits of being friends’, suggests that sometimes it’s even good to encourage customers to complain.
They found evidence that when social ties between the customer and the brand are strong, they can be reluctant to complain about service failures as they fear that this will threaten their tie with the provider.
But when encouraged to complain, their loyalty increases. Developing these social ties can be achieved through the creation of a multidimensional identity say the authors, which customers can engage with on an emotional level.
In the UK, First Direct, who topped the Which? survey for the best customer service brand of 2017 alongside nearest rivals Lakeland and Lush suggest that good customer service still translates to loyalty. Yet even when you’re strong at customer service you can’t rest on your laurels.
First Direct’s Zoe Burns-Shore said in Marketing Week in 2017: “The reality is that good customer service now comes with the territory- it’s just something people expect in the Amazon age.”
People undoubtedly expect good customer service, but they don’t always get it. Customer service levels vary dramatically across industries, across countries and between brands. A company can be in the luxury industry and have very good or very poor customer service, just as a company in the budget or low cost sector can have a strong or weak focus on customer service.
Good customer service for customers means being responsive, being real and being competent. Ensuring customers receive good customer service in each and every interaction comes down to refining the experience, anticipating issues before they arise, and being there when things go wrong.
Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, www.luxuryacademy.co.uk, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for...