By Benson Mukandiwa
IN the Era of the Customer, many brands claim to put their customers at the core of their business. But do they really, is your brand really customer-centric? Once a brand has been able to acquire a customer, they must do whatever it takes to keep them as a repetitive customer because so many products have become commodities, and the competition has become so fierce global, thus companies need a way to set themselves apart from the competition. The best way to accomplish this is through delivering great and memorable customer service.
Most customers exhibit similar traits and qualities – they are self-absorbed, they expect brands to meet their needs immediately, and to attend to their every need with a smile. Customers do not care about other priorities employees may have. They expect to be the employee’s priority and be attended to when they are ready. Premier customer service is such an integral part of customer retention and loyalty. Providing superior customer service is just good business, and may be the only thing that sets your brand apart from the competition.
The lack of appropriate service is one of the most common complaints of all consumers. The simple fact is that most of our service businesses don’t serve very well. Many businesses are renowned for their lack of service, although they are in service providing businesses. Some examples include airlines that are constantly overbooked and lose luggage, restaurants that employ poorly trained people, and hospitals that employ nurses too overworked to provide attentive service.
The coming of social networks especially the popular Facebook and Twitter it has become easier for customers to spread their dissatisfaction with your service to the rest of the world. One concerned customer once said “Make me customer angry and chances are I will post a nasty comment about your shoddy service on my Facebook or Twitter account. In a click of a computer mouse the whole world is able to see that post and make comments about it as well. You cannot afford to have that happening, do you?”
“Successful brands have one common central focus: customers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business, a professional practice, a hospital, or a government agency, success comes to those, and only those, who are obsessed with looking after customers”(Blanchard).
Walls throughout corporate world are plastered with mission, vision, and values statements that state how important customer service is. It is not enough to talk about customer service; it must be delivered time and time again. Customers everywhere have some common expectations when they are engaged in a purchasing situation. The following list is by no means comprehensive, but yet has universal applicability:
a) Value: “I want to know that what I am buying is at a fair price, and will be supported throughout the length of my ownership.”
b) Communication: “Let me know what I need to know, when I need to know it.”
c) Attitude: “Happy, eager, willing… prepared to meet my needs.”
d) Reliability: “Consistent… be there when I need you.”
e) Tangibility: “Quality of product and performance… professional image
f) Confirmation: “Deliver when you promised… total product knowledge.”
g) Empathy: “Understand me and my needs. Give me your commitment.”
h) Exceptional Service: “I vote with my money, and an election is held every time I want to re-order or tell a friend” (Gitomer).
Consistency is the key to building a repeat customer base that will provide economic benefit to a brand into the future. Consistency is especially important for brands with more than one location. Standardization of service has become an expectation of customers. Multisite services likely to be accessed at more than one location present a strong case for standardization, especially in the quality of products and services delivered. This is especially true for personal services. For example, the global leading chain of hotels brands have used standardized symbiotic synergies as a major theme in marketing programs to frequent travellers who appreciate consistency away from home. Some customers may forgive inconsistent service, but most will not.
Many times, customer expectations are set by the brand, not the customer. This is done through advertising and marketing certain promises or results. The key for a brand is to promise reality and refrain from instilling unrealistic expectations in customers. The messages that are contained in advertising communications are almost always crafted with the objective of driving customers to a business – and most often they’re targeted toward new customers. But these communications can sometimes do long-term damage if they set unrealistic or inappropriate expectations.
These messages may serve to attract customers to the business, but in doing so, they may serve to disappoint and undermine the ability of the brand to meet the customer’s expectations. Most customers do not expect perfection anyway; they are quite satisfied with goods and services that perform adequately. Yet there is now an advertising campaign from a hotel company promising that a stay with them will be ‘perfect.’ This establishes an unrealistic expectation in the customer’s mind for a level of service that in the long run is impossible to attain.
Advances in technology and a recent focus by brands on customer service have led to ever increasing customer expectations. Successful service efforts of the past contribute to customers’ attitudes, raising their expectations with each new technology, and each new approach. Customers’ expectations continue to rise as every business strives to surprise and delight their customers. As a result, customers are predisposed to look for bigger and better service delivery from brands. If these ever-rising expectations are not met, customers then defect to a competitor.
This is a difficult situation for brands to manage, as often it is out of their direct control. Expectations are constantly evolving because improvements in service shift customer demands. While customers initially appreciate better services, they quickly get used to, expect and demand them. This does not mean that companies should slow their attempt to deliver ever better service that leads to rising customer expectations. Customers judge customer service levels and service delivery by comparing different experiences at different brands, not just one. Unfortunately, customer expectations are often not set based on your brand, but are judged against the best brands in the world. Customers do not do this on purpose, with high expectations in mind, but rather because they have been conditioned to do this based on their many associated experiences. This is where understanding the customer can lead to a set of realistic customer service expectations. When a customer is engaged in your brand, it is imperative to completely understand his/her wants, needs and expectations. This will better allow you to deliver the expected product or service in a manner consistent with the expectations of the customer.