5* Customer Service 1* Star Budget
Wednesday 10 March 2010
5* Customer Service 1* Star Budget: How to delight your customers on a shoestring
Michael Heppell is the ideal speaker to book when times are hard. The man is irrepressibly cheerful. When he smiles, it’s with his entire face, and when he laughs, it’s with his entire body. His stocky frame moves constantly, fidgety with enthusiasm, as if it has been fitted with batteries that are too powerful. And his warm Geordie accent gives him a kind of everyman friendliness. This is a salesman who cares about his customers.
“We’ve spent the last few weeks ringing up your companies to see what sort of customer experience you deliver,” began Heppell. He had the London Business Forum (LBF) delegates feeling uncomfortable for a moment only to reveal that he was joking.
“The best customer service experiences [are those] where somebody was creative, somebody interacted in a great way, somebody took the lead, somebody felt confident to do something.” For the most part, such acts cost nothing, he stressed. What’s more, they will ultimately make you money in repeat business and improved customer retention. Or, if you’re in the public sector, they should enable you to hit your key performance indicators more easily. “Whatever it may be, it all gets better with better levels of service.”
When you add value to your products or services intangibly in this way, it can turn customer satisfaction into customer loyalty, Heppell continued. “Customer satisfaction is worthless, but customer loyalty is priceless. In fact, when you have got loyal customers, they will do anything before they switch. You can drop the ball. You can get it wrong. You can muck things up and they are still going to stay loyal to you. And they are going to be out there being advocates for you as well. Is there any better advertisement than a loyal customer who stands in front of somebody who says, ‘No, no, no! You should do this because that was my experience.’”
It used to be the case that businesses could win customer loyalty simply by “wowing” their customers. But now there’s a kind of “arm’s race” of customer service going on, Heppell suggested, in which you need to do more to maintain your competitive advantage. “It isn’t about how we wow people [any more],” he said, it’s about the little wows, “Or, ‘weewows’ as I like to call them.”
In aggregate, the little things count for a lot, he explained. Think of it as an emotional bank account for the customer in which you make a small deposit with every good experience that you create. Often, companies will only throw resources at customer service after a customer has had a bad experience, but “if you have a customer who has had many weewows – many deposits – and then you drop the ball. What do they do? They forgive you. But they don’t just forgive you, they forgive you and it’s like they want to help to put it right.”
So, “what do customers say about you?” Heppell asked. “I'd rather get bad feedback than nothing, because then I can do something about it.” The customer you need to worry about most in the next 12 months is the “silent customer”, he argued, because they are the one who is going to switch to another brand. “The silent customer won't tell you what you have done wrong. They won’t tell you why. They will just very, very quietly and very discreetly go off and do something somewhere else. You'll never know why. You can never learn from it. Awful thought isn’t it?”
One of the best ways to head off this problem is by making more of an effort to personalise your services, Heppell suggested. That is, you need to make your customers feel they are really involved in how your organisation operates.
At the same time, you need to be careful about how you deal with customers on a more personal level. For example, you need to make sure your customer services staff are skilled in the art of expectations management. “Only ever say what you will do,” he said, rather than promising an outcome before it is guaranteed. Under-delivering is the opposite of a weewow. Yet it is often encouraged by corporate bureaucracy. If a customer-facing member of staff needs to ask for permission in order to solve a small customer problem then your system isn’t working. People need to feel empowered to create weewows, Heppell insisted.
To illustrate the value of these principles, he told the story of how one of his own staff had rushed a signed copy of one of his books to a prospective client who was due to fly out of the country and wanted something to read on the plane. She spent a considerable amount of money getting a cab to the nearest bookshop and time persuading his staff to allow her to leave the book on his desk, but the recipient in question is, apparently, still talking about his “weewow” five years later. Until you teach people to act like this, Heppell emphasised, they won't.