Category Archives: Customer Service

4 things customers don’t want to hear

ID-100235409I’ve had the pleasure of making some big purchases recently and have come across both good and bad sales and service in the process. The products in question were a kitchen and new flooring. Both come with a degree of risk for the seller in as much as there is an element of the unknown – what state will the sub-floor be in when the existing flooring is removed, will the old kitchen come out without pulling plaster off the wall or will we find some, yet unseen, horror when we start work?

I’m under no illusion, it’s a tricky balance between telling a potential customer all they need to know and scaring them half to death with too much information. You run the risk of putting a potential customer off by giving them every horror story or  what-if scenario. Equally though there is nothing more damaging long-term than a customer that thinks they have been cheated or not told the whole story.

It’s important to try to get to know your potential customer and to judge how much information they want; some customer want every detail, others prefer edited highlights. Which ever type of prospect they turn out to be, it’s important that you are clear and straight with them. If, after they have signed on the dotted line, you hear yourself muttering any of the following, you know you’ve got a problem:

  • It’s in the terms and conditions: small print is there for a reason and it should protect both you and the buyer. If anything really significant is ‘hidden’ in your terms and conditions, point it out to your potential customer
  • My colleague should have told you that: if you have different people dealing with sales and say surveying or installation, make sure everyone is clear where their responsibility lies.The customer doesn’t care who’s job it is and they will judge your company based on all the people they come in contact with, not just the sales people
  • Lots of our customers complain about that: whether it’s an extra charge for accepting a credit card or something the customer thought was included that you later tell them is extra, if your customers are telling you they don’t like it, do something about it. I’m not saying you have to waive charges, but just make it clear from the outset so that complaints don’t arise later down the line
  • That’s not our job: this is particularly irksome for a customer when they perceive that it should logically be part of the job. I use the example of kitchen installation; if you buy kitchen cabinets and appliance from your kitchen installer would you expect their installation quote to include electrics and plumbing so that those appliances that they have designed into your kitchen, actually work? I suspect most laypeople would answer ‘yes’. Telling your customer that ‘kitchen installation’ only includes the cabinets is likely to leave them with a bad taste. Again, make it crystal clear what you mean, don’t use jargon that is likely to confuse, and you won’t have that problem to deal with.

It’s simple really. Put yourself in your customers shoes –  what do they know, what do they expect from you and how does this match up to what you are giving them. For sure, not all your competitors will be ‘doing it right’ and you may lose a few sales on price but, rest assured, in the long run the good reputation you will build by doing things properly will build  a sustainable business.



Who is responsible for great customer service?

ID-10087507I’ve just witnessed a frankly stunning display of how technology, designed to improve customer experience can, in the wrong hands, have the reverse effect. My local dentist has installed a touch screen appointment log-in system – you’ve no doubt come across them; touch a few buttons on-screen and it confirms you are in the right place at the right time. Simple. In this case though something obviously went wrong. I overheard a customer asking the receptionist when the dentist was likely to see him (he had already been waiting for half an hour), only to be told that he had not logged in correctly.

Strangely the receptionist felt that this was a sufficient explanation. The other patients, myself included, did our best to hide the relief that it hadn’t happened to us! I didn’t hear the end of the exchange; suffice to say the guy was still in the waiting room when I left after my appointment though.

So who is to blame? The product developers for inventing something that may solve one problem but also creates a series of other issues, the sales  person who sold the system inappropriately ( the surgery probably doesn’t need that level of sophistication), the receptionist who handled the human interaction so badly, or the marketer that forgot to think about the customer and allowed the technology to take centre stage? One thing is certain, it’s not the customers fault!

It’s easy to see how this kind of situation could arise in a big corporate environment where communication between  armies of product developers, marketers, sales people and front line staff  may not be perfect. But how can it happen in a small provincial dental surgery? How could they have lost sight of the customer so completely?

Great customer service is a team effort and everyone, from marketing through front line staff, should be aware that they have a part to play. Put your customers  at the centre of your business decisions and you have a much better chance of delivering consistently good service.

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How to look after your best customers

I have just signed a new mobile phone contract with my existing supplier that gives me a lesser package at a higher price than I could have got from a competitor. Fact is, I accepted a plan that will cost me almost 40% more and has fewer benefits; so how did they persuade me to part with my cash and why was I happy to do so?

In simple terms the downside of moving my contract to a new supplier outweighed the benefits they were offering.

Here are some of the reasons I stayed:

  • inertia (well I’m only human!): I was looking for reasons to stay with my existing supplier as I didn’t really want the hassle of changing. This meant that I was receptive when they offered me an incentive to stay. As it turned out, it didn’t even need to be a particularly great offer to retain my business
  • good service: I have always had good (though not outstanding) service from my existing supplier
  • value added offers: My existing supplier has sent regular offers and incentives over the years, which have continued to remind me that I am a valued customer
  • brand familiarity:  I don’t consider myself to be a particularly brand loyal person, but having trusted in this brand for some 10 years, I certainly feel I know what I’m getting.

In contrast, I did decide  to move my broadband contract a few months ago. In this case I felt that my existing supplier offered a mediocre service at a high rate and made absolutely no effort to add value or to retain me as a customer!

While this example relates to a highly competitive market dominated by big organisations, the messages translate to small, medium and even micro businesses. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t advocate building a customer retention model based on the premise that your customers can’t really be bothered to move to a new supplier, your aim should be to ensure that they don’t want to move. If your existing clients are happy with you, you will have a fighting chance of keeping them regardless of what tactics your competitors are using to try to poach them.

Existing customers are a really valuable asset to your business so make sure you are looking after them well.


Why customer experience is an important concept for your business

I normally leave marketing ‘buzz’ words at the door when I’m talking to owner managers and generally stick to jargon-free explanations. I have, however, recently found myself using the term ‘customer experience’ more and more. Why? Because, for me, it is the very essence of good marketing and a really useful concept for small business owners to embrace.

In simple terms customer experience is the sum of all the ways that customers come in contact with your product or service. It includes the moment when a potential customer first becomes aware of your product, through to buying it, using it and, hopefully recommending it to others. The benefit of looking at  customer experience as a whole – as opposed to looking at marketing, sales and customer service etc as separate entities – is that you are less likely to miss some vital part of the process.

Let me give you an example of where failing to look at the whole process turned a good customer experience bad in a matter of minutes. Here is how the story goes. I won a prize in a charity raffle a few weeks ago; it was a voucher for a new clothes shop in my high street. Having walked  passed the shop many times since it opened I decided to finally venture in. Once inside the shop I was impressed by the variety of items they stocked, the staff were friendly but not pushy and the prices represented good value. So far my customer experience was all positive. I tried a couple of things on and decided so buy one of them. I handed over my credit card and the voucher…and then the crunch came. The staff member looked suspiciously at the voucher and didn’t hide the fact she was unsure what to do with it; she called another staff member and they loudly discussed the fact that they hadn’t  seen such a voucher before. Another staff member soon joined them. Now faced with three staff members looking bemused, a queue forming behind me and feeling distinctly embarrassed, my instinct was to flee the shop never to return. Luckily common sense took over and I finally managed to make the purchase. I won’t be rushing back though and I certainly wouldn’t buy a gift voucher there!

It seems such a basic mistake to make – not communicating a promotional offer to front line staff – and unforgivable for a small company where lines of communication are short. It could have easily been avoided by simply mapping out the process and (hopefully) spotting the flaw in the plan in advance.

Image courtesy of

Tell it straight: why clear communication is so important

I have had cause to seek ‘help’ from various quarters in the last few weeks and have encountered varied levels of, shall we say, customer service.

It all started with a trip to A&E; nothing too serious thankfully but stressful all the same. Despite the lengthy wait (which we are all programmed to expect), it was a generally good customer experienced due, in no small part, to the interaction with the staff and their ability and willingness to explain the process to me.

Unfortunately the trip to A&E necessitated rearranging summer holiday plans, which is when the communication all started to fall apart. Tens of calls, several emails and one letter later, I am left wondering why I can’t seem to get a straight answer from anyone!

As consumers few of us read the small print until we have to; how often have you simply clicked ‘agree’ to the terms and conditions without a second thought? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not moaning about the terms themselves; but now I do need to refer to them, it would be good if someone could actually explain what they mean. What is a ‘minor’ change to the holiday for example, and how do I get hold of ‘the manager’ who is able to ‘use his discretion’ to issue a credit note.

Small print, terms & conditions, customer agreements, whatever you call them, are a necessary part of running any business. It seems pretty obvious that they should be clear and unambiguous; but they also need to be supported by processes and procedures so that your staff know exactly what to do when it is necessary to use them.

‘Old’ doesn’t have to mean out of date

A highlight of my recent trip to Paris was stumbling across an amazing shop selling a stunning array of traditional kitchen ware. It looked like a museum piece;  jammed full of every conceivable item from copper pots to pastry cutters. The stock levels were immense, the pricing system idiosyncratic, the staff plentiful and the trade brisk.  But I found myself wondering how successful the business was.

Granted, the shop was  aimed at the serious chef and restaurateur, yet they tolerated our presence good-naturedly despite the fact that we were obviously tourists. Have they just cleverly found their niche in a city that puts so much emphasis on good food and eating? Or are they simply living in the past?

On my return home I googled ‘Restaurant suppliers in Paris’ and up popped: E.Dehillerin  Le specialiste du materiel de cuisine; I recognised the shop in an instant. OK, so their website could be better and the on-line ordering is a little basic, but somehow the business has survived from 1820 – 2012. Not bad going.

I wonder if E. Dehillerin have a social media strategy or are planning on launching an app any day soon? Probably not. Yet they do seem to have an enviable reputation amongst their target market and I found plenty of enthusiastic blog posts about them. They have clearly found their niche and are obviously supplying the right product range and service to keep generations of restauranteurs returning.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m happy to see that applying the basic foundations of marketing – knowing your customer, supplying the right product and providing good customer service – can still sustain a business in our high-tech world. Yes of course marketing methods have changed over the years, and will continue to do so at a rapid pace, yet the fundamental principles are still relevant.

The spirit of Christmas marketing

My Christmas shopping this year has been characterised by the daily knock of the postman bringing a steady stream of brown parcels. 90% of them have something in common; the name emblazoned on the side of the box. To me it says good value and great service – you know who I’m talking about, my beloved Amazon.

As if I needed another reason to love the familiar Amazon brown boxes, one has come along this week in the shape of a parcel from…well lets just say…another company. It was a large box, totally incapable of being hidden, with a rather helpful picture and the name of the product on the outside. ‘Have I spoilt the surprise?’ asked the courier – too right you have!

I know that it’s entirely practical to have the product description on the outside of the box plus it makes great marketing sense to have your brand visible to potential customers at every available moment. I also appreciate that it would add considerable cost for additional packaging to disguise the product within. In fact, operationally, I can’t think of one good reason why you would not want a product picture and desciption on the outside of the box. From a customer service perspective though, I can think of many.

Understanding everything about your customer, including how and why they purchase your products, is a crucial part of your marketing. It’s hard to cover every eventuality, but if you can stand out from the crowd by thinking through the detail of your processes and making them as customer friendly as possible, you will surely find a loyal base of repeat customers who love to buy from you.

customer response times: how long is too long?

I made to a call to a company the other day and encountered a voicemail message telling me that the caller would return my call within 3 hours. I went away satisfied, able to get on with my work and confident that I would get a call back and didn’t need to make a mental note to call again.

In the same week I had an ‘out of office’ response to an email informing me that the recipient was working part-time this week as it was half-term and so may take a little longer than usual to get back to me. Too much information? I don’t think so. Again, I felt happy to be kept informed.

In contrast I ended up in an anonymous ‘phone queue the other day and, though I was probably only on hold for a minute, by the time I’d been blasted with ‘I’m in the mood for dancing’ I was in the mood for murder!

Unless you are operating in a truly time critical environment it seems to me that the best way to keep customers happy is to keep them informed. Think about what is an appropriate time scale to return a call or email in your particular business scenario, tell your customers when they can expect to hear from you and most important of all…stick to your promise.

Good marketing scuppered by missing detail

Thinking about a brainstorm meeting I was due to have with a new client, I decided I needed a good, old-fashioned flip chart. Something simple, something portable that looked vaguely professional. A quick google search uncovered a handful of supplier websites and I’d soon selected the product I wanted. So far so good.

Before making my purchase there was just one detail I needed to check…the size of the flip chart. I clicked a tab entitled ‘product information’ to find… well… not a lot really. The distinct lack of detail stopped me in my tracks. I was ready, credit card in hand, to complete the purchase but one crucial detail was missing.

Mildly irritated, I picked up the phone to the customer services team; at least the number was easy to find on their website. The call was answered promptly and I felt sure I was on my way to finalising my purchase. Not so. The operator could not find the information and promised to call  back. Which, inevitably, she didn’t.

What a waste of some really quite good marketing. Google ads taking them right to the top of the rankings, an easy to navigate and clear website plus a responsive call centre…but without the right basic product information for me, the customer, all utterly fruitless.

Look at your customer journey from end to end, including all the small stuff. It could just mean the difference between as successful marketing campaign and one that falls at the final hurdle.

Making great customer service your USP

Adverts in the Sunday press don’t usually have much of an impression on me. I take a professional interest of course, but beyond that I generally can take or leave them. So what was different about the Clarks advert I saw at the weekend that made me rip it from the pages and pin it purposefully on our notice board?

The advert in question was for school shoes – not the most thrilling topic. It wasn’t visually exciting and had a predictable sprinkling of back-to-school references and images. In the bottom left hand corner though, it made an irresistible promise that would strike straight to the heart of parents with school age children – ‘Kids shoes without the queues.’ For those of you who don’t have children, take my word for it, buying school shoes ranks up there with some of the most stressful experiences. In my books it’s hard to find a more unpleasant way of parting with large amounts of cash.

For me at any rate, the message delivered in that Clarks advert was a perfect match for their target audience. It wasn’t endless references to product features that made me react, it was the promise of great customer service. The promise that buying, what I already believe to be a good product, would be easy and pain-free.

It goes without saying that you need to deliver on the promise of great customer service. I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks if Clarks manage to pull it off.