Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Customer is Always Right

We hear it all the time, "the customer is always right", or "the customer is king". So what should we do when the king is wrong? or is requesting something absurd? Good thing, there is a new phrase coined with a disclaimer, "the right customer is always right". Well, it puts things in a better perspective because the "right customer" should be that 20% contributing to our 80% sales or revenue - and should deserve that special privileges. But even so, if we had to weight brand reputation / business sustainability over customer's whims and fancy, the latter (brand reputation / business sustainability of course), without any doubt needs to take priority.

So, how do we treat our customers justly? Customers like us, are emotional human beings, have needs and wants, and learn to wear their pants one side at a time. Therefore, it should not be difficult to decide our course of action when a customer complaints or request for a refill, again. The Bible according to Luke 6:31, "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise." And this verse today have become the "Golden rule" or ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment. But will that make us go out of business? I think not. In contrary, a delighted customer, not only buys more, but tells 15 others of their positive experience.

Well, that's easy and even our competitors can do it. So what's next? Take the golden rule one step further and you have empathy (defined as the capability to share another being's emotions and feelings - Wikipedia). Empathy involves understand customer's needs and expectation. Most writings and seminars today will also include listening as part of empathy. Listening to your customers involve understand their likes, dislikes, preference and most importantly motivation. Another important part of listening is to understand customer complaints (or a better phrase, customer feedback).

If you are not in the public sector, nowadays most customers don't complaint, they simply take their business elsewhere - to your competitor's door step (or website)! SME & Entrepreneurship Magazine Oct 2009 cover story quotes, When your customers say that your products need improvement, they mean it. When they say your services should have more "happy looking customer relations", they really mean it too. Nobody wants to be treated like a nobody.

Organizations therefore should encourage customers to provide feedback and create an environment where feedback are seriously reviewed and action taken. A good example I noticed was at Jusco (Queensbay Mall, Penang) where customer complaint cards, complete with some management response, are posted on a notice board, visibly, and in front of a customer service counter. Of course some other companies choose to reward their customers for taking the time and effort to respond, but the most important thing about this activity is not only about getting feedback, but taking action. Sometimes taking action can be easy like enhancing facilities, while others that deal with service level are more difficult (irrational ones could be ignored).

So how do we align our employees with this customer focus? Firstly management needs to play the leadership role and walk the talk, while employees should undergo adequate training on values and how to handle and respond to customer feedback. A reward scheme could also boost staff performance, and it's equally critical to make sure employees have some flexibility to make decisions that delight customers. I've seen Starbucks baristars going out to buy newspapers because they didn't have enough copies.

Whatever you are not willing to do for your customers, your competitors probably are. Making sure customers are delighted is not a simple task, and requires a crystal clear focus, dedication and commitment. But the rewards really do pay off. A delighted customer, not only spreads the word of joy, but remains a loyal customer - and we all know how much more business (and referrals) a loyal customer can bring. And, it's also less expensive retaining a customer than getting new customers.

Finally, here are Lisa Ford's Gold Standard Customer Service;
  • Be reliable (do what you say you're going to do; do it when you say you'll do it; and do it right the first time)
  • Be responsive (act fast and consider the human side)
  • Make customers feel valued (make all customers think they are most important)
  • Be empathetic (understand the customer's situation and feelings)
  • Be competent (have the first person contacted take ownership of the problem and be responsible for getting it solved)

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