07 Nov 2015

Customer Service is Often Code for Consistency

‘## was so rude on the phone – I will never go back to those guys’

I am sure we have all said something about poor customer service at one stage or another. When you compare the customer service standards in Australia to other countries, we don’t come out to well.

In my opinion, businesses are focussing on the wrong strategies to try and attract and retain customers. While they spend time with sales, promotions, advertisements and more sales, they should be focussing more on consistency.

Why consistency? Because when most people talk about poor customer service, they are actually talking about the service being provided not matching the experience they had before, or the experience they expected. Consistency.

To be more accurate and clear, consistency in business terms is the art and science of providing and doing what you said you would do. It isn’t complicated, but it does take a consistent effort across an entire business to try and achieve it.

When we say the customer service in Store ## is bad, it is often because we have experienced better customer service in that store in the past, and the standard seems to have dropped. If we say restaurant ## is poor, it is often because we have eaten there before and the dining experience was better last time.  Once we have decided that the store or restaurant’s standards have dropped, we aren’t likely to go back. What is worse for the business though is we don’t keep quiet about this experience – we are likely to share it (either verbally or through social media) with a large group of friends, whose buying choice can then be influenced by ours.

iStock 000016450355SmallOne business that doesn’t fail its instore experience is Apple – they have consistency down to a fine art. In direct contrast to most businesses, they are overstaffed – you can always find someone in a blue shirt with an Apple logo quickly. Those staff in the blue apple shirts will know more about the product than you 99% of the time. They can often set up your product right in front of you, and they can all provide POS service – often right in front of you and on the device they are holding. Apple staff are helpful, knowledgeable and on-hand. It is no surprise that the store is almost always full of customers.

As a business – what can you do to improve customer service / consistency?

1.            Test your product. Test it both before it is put in front of a customer and after. Make sure the product is good and the way it is presented / delivered works.

2.            Check it often. Inconsistency in delivery often occurs because the people providing it don’t believe that they are, or have to be, accountable for what they are providing. Mystery shop, make random calls and try the product. When it isn’t what you (or more importantly your customers) expect, fix it quickly

3.            Invest in training. Apple staff being able to fix problems 99% of the time isn’t an accident. They are trained often, both instore and externally, to provide the service that you see. Training should include formal training, instore training from managers and coaching from peers and product / service experts.

4.            Repeat Steps 1-3 Often. The process of testing, checking and training can’t be a one off. I can’t tell you how many businesses I have worked with where the training I have provided is the first that many staff have experienced, either formal or informal. How can your staff provide a consistent service when you have neither taught them or told them what that standard should be, let alone how to provide it?

Consistency in business is not very complicated, nor it is as sexy as a new ad campaign or a 50% off sale. But when it comes to customer service, it is actually what customers are looking for, and it is what they will come back for. Instead of worrying about the next gimmick to get me in the store or restaurant, why not focus on what will keep me there, get me to come back, and make sure I tell my friends. Consistency is the key.

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