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Customer Service - "Getting it right first time?"

Within the last year, I have experienced many different levels of customer service.

Having worked in customer service and management posts, I understand fully some of the challenges. Luckily, I have always worked for companies that believe in high standards of customer care and would attempt to at least acknowledge issues as fast as possible while keeping promises. Resolving to customer satisfaction can however be more of a challenge.

Having also been on the receiving end of mixed levels of customer service, I wanted to share some recent examples and my thoughts on the service industry. I will also explore how can you can get the results that you are after when contacting service teams.

All too often, companies just do not invest in customer service. The money is invested to attract sales and often customer service departments are left under resourced. Often by companies who do not understand the importance and benefits of providing after sales service and retaining customers.

Manage the customer experience well and you will retain the customer. Get the experience wrong and you will likely lose them. In recent times, I cannot recall being treated deliberately rudely by customer service staff but I have come across those who are perhaps unintentionally impolite and need support and training.

Supporting and training staff is key and may stop complaints in the first place. Last year at a service station, a Waitrose store which is generally known for quality and high standards had staff chatting while serving. The customers then not gaining acknowledgment, thanks or goodbyes. Not a good experience.

In the most part, issues with service that I have experienced are due to under funding. Trade Centre UK is a good example. No retuned phone calls or emails and if you visit their showrooms, they have numerous sales staff waiting to gain sales. Visit their customer service desk and you will be greeted by a poorly staffed department with a small team who are under extreme pressure. In these instances, you have to question management of the operation. It's obvious where funding is directed and as a result, poor scores are achieved by this company on TrustPilot. Trade Centre UK - you need a serious overview of how you invest in after sales support.

Turnaround times by companies approached with an issue are often too slow. Fast acknowledgement of an issue can quickly help appease the customer. Get it wrong by not picking up calls, emails or returning contacts and customers will quickly feel more disatisfied than perhaps they were. This is all too familiar and needs to improve throughout all service industries.

That's not to say that all companies fall into this bracket of poor service. We experienced an issue with a perfect fit roller blind that we purchased a couple of years ago from Hilarys. We received contact back by email on the same day and a quick follow up call. Action was then taken which booked in a virtual appointment to review the issue. An example of a company appreciating the need to service and support customers after purchases.

Yes, it costs to service a customer but the result is retention and customer satisfaction. No questions asked, we would purchase again from Hilarys because you know when something goes wrong that you will be assisted. Or at least that was our experience...

What is important to note though is this is just our own interaction. I am sure most companies get things right some of the time, the challenge though is to get customer service consistently right. A quick google of Hilarys on TrustPilot gives an impression of only getting it right 50% of the time, going by average score reviews. Trade Centre UK is similar with some mixed reviews. In their case, customers happy with the sales process and if they never need them again, will likely come back. Those with an issue though and it will likely be a different story.

Things will go wrong, so the ability to handle and correct issues effectively is so important. Petplan is a good example. A possible computer issue wiped out a claim of ours. It became apparent that the team were not quite understanding the scale of the issue. While the problem did need escalating, the team member now dealing with the issue has taken ownership, is keeping us updated and resolving the issue. A positive example of a company that does listen when something goes wrong. Perhaps this explains why they have a good TrustPilot score with 87% rating them 5 stars.

Despite the pressures that support staff are under and it can be extreme at times, companies need to make sure the support team have access to all the systems needed. Invest so they have time to service the customer and can monitor communications. Software that manages communication by various contact channels (CRM - Customer relationship manager) is often a good place to start, along with processes to correct issues and learn from experiences. Investment to stop repeat issues is important.

So, is there anything you can do to make sure that you receive good service? One issue that does need addressing is the unrealitic demands that some customers actually place on customer service departments. Unreasonable expectations when requiring resolution which can waste time. When requiring support, be helpful, provide all the required details and when you are asked questions, do come back with answers. Don't be that person that asks for help, then doesn't follow the advice and then complains that the issue is still not resolved.

It is also important to be realistic, often support teams are often burdened with issues that are not actually within their control. When I worked in travel, I remember one customer complaining that the weather had not been sunny enough. Another complained that they got hit by a football. Then the classic, the overseas restaurant did not have tomato ketchup.

Try to remain calm and polite when reporting a complaint to a company, and I know from experience that it is not always easy. However, you are likely to gain a better resolution to your issue if you can build an effective raport. And if you are working in customer service and having to deal with rudeness, yes, it can be tiring but it is part of the job and the skill is to turn that customer around so that they end up satisfied. Don't take it personally.

I've worked with good and poor customer service staff. If you make a mistake, learn from it but don't beat yourself up. If you have a frustrated customer, listen and attempt to appease them.

From my experience, most staff in customer service want to help. The poor chap in Trade Centre UK who dealt with us was obviously good natured and had good intentions. Was he being supported by his company, most definitely not. Companies need to recognise and understand the difference that investing in after sales can make to their businesses. If you have marketed your company, it costs to attract custom. If you then gain a sale, surely that should not be the end of the journey. The focus now being retention, good customer service and gaining that next sale.

I would love to hear about your experiences with companies and their customer service offerings. Or perhaps you work in the customer service field and wish to discuss. Please do comment about your experiences, good or bad.



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