How to offer a great customer experience
, June 10, 2014
By Ahmed Al Akber
It’s 8:10 am and I’m standing outside my local bank branch trying to understand why the sign says ‘Opening Hours: 08:00-16:00’ but the doors are still locked.
I peer through the glass doors and recognise some of the staff. I know they see me but they don’t seem to take much notice.
When they finally open after 20 minutes of me standing outside there is no explanation or apology, and when I ask the only answer I get is that their teller had arrived late, which is why they could not open.
I, like most people in the Middle East, could probably write a book on the number of customer service tribulations I’ve been handed while living here.
What many organisations fail to understand is that there is a real business incentive for offering good customer service. Besides their marketing, the only real differentiator between competing banks, airlines, courier companies, hotels, car dealerships, restaurants, online businesses and just about any other business you can think of is the experience they offer customers.
Getting it right provides a means to differentiate, the ability to justify higher prices, and improves profitability by building customer loyalty. Happy customers keep coming back, are willing to accept mistakes, and will tell their friends about you.
So what should companies in the Middle East do to improve their customer service? There are a lot of things needed, but focusing on these three fundamental things will set the rest in place:
1. Create a culture of pleasing customers. This may sound overwhelming but where it starts by defining what excellent customer service is.
Zappos is an excellent example of a company that focused on a corporate culture of putting it’s customers first. Their model of selling shoes online did not catch at first but it was customer-pleasing policies and language like, ‘If the shoe fits, wear it. If not, ship it back - at no cost to you’ that allowed the business to rocket to over $1 billion in 2008. In 2009, it was bought out by Amazon for a whopping $1.2 billion.
2. Measure what your customers are getting. Asking your customers what they think is the best way to gauge why they like your service and how it could be better. Once you know what kind of experience your customers are getting, it removes a lot of guesswork around improving it. Follow this up with a focus group or two to understand why customers feel the way they do.
3. Continuously improve. Once you’ve measured it, you will have an idea of the service gaps that need to be filled and the obstacles to remove to enhance your customer experience. Delighting customers requires know-how, so this could include the need for training. When done right, training helps give your employees the skills they need to deliver good customer service, and is great for increasing staff motivation.
Often, the experience a customer gets is what separates organisations that thrive from those that fail. Don’t let your customers stand outside wait for you, because soon you’ll glance back and they’ll be gone.
* Ahmed Al Akber is the managing director of ACK Solutions in Bahrain.