Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Drives Customer Service Levels?

It’s often not clear what makes one organisation give better customer service compared to another; or why within the same organisation, one individual will seem to have a natural ‘gift’ to want to look after a customer, whereas other individuals give the impression that they couldn’t really care less.
The media is full off articles about poor service, though hardly ever on the front pages anymore – where you’ll have stories about Vodafone still holding people to their mobile phone contracts, even after they’ve died; or banks like Santander losing client’s money and not being in a rush to find it or simply fobbing customers off who ask for a basic service. Stories in the press are mostly about large corporates giving poor levels of service, but this doesn’t mean that it’s only large corporates that give poor service (as we’re probably only to well aware); it seems to happen within all sizes of organisation and across most, if not all, industry sectors.

So what drives some organisations and individuals to genuinely want to offer customer service and to respond when they find that their standards fail; and what drives other organisations and individuals to not really care about the customer and service, and how does this segment actually get away with it?

In some industry sectors, size definitely matters, where organisations are in a quantity rather than quality driven environment. The mobile phone industry, banking, insurance, etc. are all quantity based businesses – where there seems to be a wide spectrum of acceptable levels of ‘customer service’ which not only differs across the different organisations, but can differ significantly across different branches within the same organisation.

In these industries there can be a disconnect between the ‘vision’ that the executive desire, compared to what actually happens on the ground in respect of recruitment, training, day-to-day management, complaints procedures and follow-up. Though if there is a disconnect then it’s the executive who are accountable for making sure that their corporate vision for customer service, is translated through to action on the ground.  

At the other extreme there are small, often one-man organisations, like plumbers; electricians; garden service; home renovations; etc, that also seem to cover the whole spectrum with respect to customer servce to the people focused on giving great service and value for money; to those that seem to get a ‘kick’ out of ripping people off, and even more amazingly not only getting away with it, but being able to continue operating in their chosen profession.

Whether a large corporate or a small one-man firm, most are in business to make money and to make some form of profit so they can at least survive where, and I’m not sure if it’s the exception or the rule, some firms want to maximise their profitability, regardless of the potential loss of long-term customers due to poor service.

The fact is, whether we like to admit it or not, the customer receives the service that they and the organisation are prepared to accept, i.e. you will be treated, how you allow yourself to be treated – meaning that most of the time customers don’t complain enough as, it takes time and effort and there’s often a cost involved, whether it’s phoning the customer complaints line or putting a stamp on a letter.

Admittedly this is a very generic statement as customers in some countries are more prevalent to complaining than others; and the laws for consumers are much tighter in some countries compared to others – so it’s not just about the customer, but the legal and cultural ‘set-up’ in your own country.

Another key issue at this particular point in the global economic cycle is that the majority of people have become much more cost conscious during the economic downturn and hence focus more on price than service – though that doesn’t mean they’ll accept inferior quality products or services; unless in their perception it equates to value for money or they simply cannot afford to complain.

The concept of service and the levels they want to give squarely rests with the organisation – and it’s the leadership’s responsibility to ensure that the standards they require and envisage as part of their strategy and image, are transformed into action on the ground.

But it's customers that allow poor customer service to raise its head and become an acceptable behaviour, whether it's an organisation, a branch or an individual – because not only don’t we complain enough, but ‘we’ also go back and ask for more – simply reinforcing the bad behaviour as acceptable.


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