The Customer is not always right – but is always the ‘Queen Bee’
Article by Frea O’Brien, Customer First UK
Recently I checked into a hotel a good eighteen months after a previous visit, to be greeted with “Welcome back!” After a long journey, it made me feel like a Queen Bee, returning to the golden hive reassured that the loyal worker bees would certainly serve me adoringly!
One could say that the royal ‘we’ felt validated in deciding to return again. However I must climb off my perch and admit this didn’t happen because I had made myself memorable the last time, or because the receptionist had a particularly good memory. It was because they had the imagination to put themselves in my weary shoes and think through how to make me feel special from the moment I crossed their threshold to the moment I left….. vowing to return again.
Engendering feelings of warmth, welcome and a mutual relationship built on ‘care, recognition and attention’ in return for ‘my money again, again and yes….. probably again’ had been delivered on a solid platform of slick information systems, great recruitment and a culture where I was made to feel valued. They’d cared enough to think through my journey ensuring that they were certainly on their own journey to business success.
Of course they still had to deliver on all the elements which make up great service for a weekend away in a hotel, but they made a great initial impression and were well on the way to creating a ‘loved-up’ customer, the first stage in building customer loyalty.
The challenge for anyone in a leadership position is to build a culture which puts the customer at the heart of the organisation.
We’ve all met people that drone on and on about ‘The Customer is King’ somehow thinking that chanting this mantra is enough to attract a loyal following. The intention is there I suppose, but by itself it fails to stack up.
It’s an outdated assertion almost as cringe worthy as good old Jerry McGuire’s – ‘Show me the money…..honey.’ When really in today’s climate we’re longing for a return to mutual relationships that are valued, respected, built on loyalty, commitment and yes….compromise along the way.
Surely we’d aspire to have our customers instead say ‘You had me from hello.’
Ok, so I need to take off the rose-tinted spectacles in these tough times. Businesses today face a host of challenges – challenges to hit targets, make budgets, cut costs – all at a time when staff are worried about their own situation – their jobs, their mortgages, their pensions, their families. Those competing pressures sometimes mean that the customer loses out in the clash of priorities. And let’s not forget, in these connected, networked times, customers have sharpened their antennae from sniffing out a bargain to homing in on memorable service experiences – and if they don’t feel valued, you will soon know about it. Thanks to the internet,
many thousands of other actual and potential customers will soon tweet about it as well.
The challenge for business today, whether it be private, public or third sector, is to find a way to resolve these tensions, and to find a way to incorporate customer service as a way of life – “That’s the way we do things around here”.
An increasingly popular approach is to evaluate the operation against an external standard, such as the Customer First standard. Perhaps not surprisingly, that’s an approach I would endorse….because it highly values the importance of customer relationships. It shows you are passionate about customer service, are prepared to have outsiders evaluate your culture, your performance, your people – and let’s not forget, it’s also a great marketing tool.
But you do have to live up to it. Our Customer First assessors are quick to sense if you’re truly living and breathing a culture of service excellence from the moment they walk through the door because if there is a gap between your claims and your performance, your customers will quickly spot it. A customer service ethos needs to be embedded in the organisation.
Your accreditation should be merely a symbol of your success that in marketing ‘honey’ speak positions your business as a ‘manuka’ and not a bland low-value brand.
So, how do we achieve that?
I believe customer service needs to be recognised as the ‘comb’ that holds all aspects of the business together. A highly formalised system is needed that links all your operations and your people together across the business with the primary mission being to satisfy the customer at every step of their journey. Everyone in a business, a charity, or dare I say a government department has got customers, be they external or internal.
The better the quality and the consistency of service to both external customers and internal ones, the more successful the
business will be. That’s not to say that there are times when you have to find a dignified and respectful way out of a customer relationship, but doing that successfully can be good for your reputation as well as your bottom line.
We need to visualise customers as individuals and use established frameworks – the Customer First standard is just one – to formalise effective customer service across the organisation, and not just for front line staff. Once a structure is in place that values customer relationships, takes into account the marketing environment and recruits the right people, then it becomes instinctive
to build long-term successful customer relationships. For those of us who know anything about Queen Bees – satisfy one and she’ll bring along a loyal colony!
Article written by Frea O’Brien,
General Manager, Customer First UK
Customer First UK is the awarding body for Putting the Customer First – the National Standard for Customer Service. Established in 2004, its aim is to raise the quality of service delivery to customers by ensuring that organisations are assessed against, developed and supported to achieve the Customer First Standard. The standard has been achieved by hundreds of organisations in both the public and private sectors, nationwide. www.customerfirst.org