Whether it’s shoes, the broadband or a holiday, the fruitless phone call to a bored call centre operator is one of the more frustrating experiences of life as a modern consumer. And it’s not good business either.
“Everyone must have rung customer services where you are promised a result and nothing happens,” says Chris Smart, who lectures on business at City University. It’s not usually the call operator’s fault though because businesses that really care about customer service make sure it works.
“Ideally it’s sorted and then you get a follow-up call to check you’re happy with the service. That’s probably down to how the company is run – how they train staff and how well managed it is,” says Dr Smart.
Though customer service is often a department by itself, businesses that really get customer service right, put it at the centre of the organisation, recognising that it pays off in loyalty, efficiency and even new business.
The same goes for the systems that store customer service information – the CRMs or customer relationship management systems. They should not just be an add-on to day-to-day business processes, says Dr Smart, they should be deeply integrated.
“A good CRM lets you pull together all the data of a particular customer to one point. So if a person calls, then the responder can try and deal with the question in a joined-up manner.” The CRM itself won’t fix your customer’s holiday booking – it’s simply a software tool – what it can do is help you fix it.
“The key here is not the tech; the tech is an enabler. Whether it is effective is down to the company. To use CRM effectively you’ve got to design your company process to take advantage of the technology.”
Thinking through customer service can completely refocus your company from being focused on internal processes to focusing on the customer
Gene Marks used to sell CRMs. “They are terrible when they are not implemented the right way,” he says. “They are terrible when companies don’t appreciate that all of these magical applications are nothing but databases and companies don’t put the right processes in place to ensure that all interactions are entered into this database so that the data can be properly used for further sales, marketing and service interactions.” And that is something you have to work at.
“They are terrible when companies don’t assign strong administrators, or when they cut corners on training or try to do too much at one time. They are terrible when senior managers don’t pay the attention needed to make these systems successful and instead cave in to the complaints made by lower-level employees who don’t want to do the extra work.”
It’s not just about avoiding complaints, good customer service can keep customers coming back for years and turn them into advocates for your company.
It can also be a trump card for traditional companies as they face competition from digital competitors.
That’s the idea behind an innovative customer service app from Richard Russell, an entrepreneur whose product Wlcome is a new kind of CRM that aims to bring to bricks-and-mortar shops the kind of customer relationship management currently only possible online. It’s a tool for real-world shops that lets you recognise people when they step through the door, rather than after they’ve pulled out their store card or explained themselves.
“Online stores compete very well on price and stock, but where they can’t compete so much is customer service,” says Mr Russell. “In a bricks-and-mortar shop, you actually have a person there. And no matter how smart websites get, one of the ways that high street retailers can compete against online markets like Amazon is service.”
In many ways, a good CRM tries to replicate what used to happen when you walked into a local shop, and people knew your name and your order, whether it was a butchers or a greengrocers.
“The bricks-and-mortar shops are likely to have zero information about their customers. All they might have is what an individual shop assistant remembers about a customer; what they bought, that they like football, where they went on holiday,” says Mr Russell.
The app works by recognising your mobile phone as you walk in the door, flashing up your name, usual orders and potentially much more to the shop assistant. That means assistants you’ve never met could greet you by name when you walk in. Currently on trial in two coffee shops in London, it’s an example of how big opportunities can lie in the seemingly mundane area of customer service.
You don’t need fancy technology though; at the heart of any CRM is a big database that can be called up from many different points.
“The key is being able to keep a record of the interactions,” says Dr Smart. “If used effectively, a CRM ought to help reduce the costs of dealing with or servicing customers. Rather than using a complex chain of different people doing different parts of a process, in a well-designed CRM one person is able to put something all the way through.”
Thinking through customer service can completely refocus your company, he says. “A large part of the success of CRMs is to do with turning an organisation inside out – from being focused on internal processes to focusing on the customer and trying to satisfy what they need.”