People often misunderstand customer service and, as a result, they fail to solidify business relationships, says Sarah Spivey, managing director at Modulift.
One has to be careful when talking about customer service because everybody already thinks they're good at it. Ask a bunch of business people what separates their company from competition and they'll say customer service pretty quickly. They might also say their product is the greatest or best value, but what they think really keeps people rushing back to spend their money is the supposed thrill they make it to buy from them.
It's an arrogant and often misguided assumption. Some CEOs look at their turnover—they'll be poring over 2017 figures even as I write this—and attribute a large part of revenue to their staff's excellent customer service. In reality, they should be looking at the wasted potential that isn't in the books because existing and prospective clients are left underwhelmed. It's amazing how many businesses appraise their own customer service without considering how it looks from the other side. There's a good reason why restaurants don't write their own reviews.
Get customer service wrong and it's incredibly patronising. We've all heard a salesperson get the deal or make a sale, only to go on to explain how smart and astute the buyer is for spending their money with them. "We won't let you down," or, "You'll be glad you made this decision," are other common phrases. "Don't see it as a cost, see it as an investment," another might chime, before adding, "I'm not interested in making money, I just want to make you happy."
That's not customer service—it's creepy salesmanship. The people I've looked up to and respected most throughout my career are those who've created the best customer service experience without even knowing they're doing it. They've never been the kind of person to drive into work every morning repeating to themselves, "The customer comes first," nor have they ever really been heard telling their clients how great they are.
Instead, they've been very good at building relationships and understanding what people want. And by that I mean what they really want. Proper customer service can't be delivered, particularly in the B2B marketplace, without a rapport between seller and buyer. It's a hard art to master. Listen to someone issuing brilliant customer service and the boundary is practically non-existent. One could be forgiven for thinking they are on the phone to a friend, asking how their family is and remembering that their favourite football team lost at the weekend. Then they go on to talk about holidays and restaurants they've tried.
One can't fake it and it's not trickery. A salesperson can't take the names of someone's children and ask what sports team they support the first time they speak to them; it takes time. Imagine the impression it would give if on the second occasion a representative of a product supplier called up a prospect customer they said, "Hi, we spoke last week, I'm just checking to see how Johnny got on at school sports day." It would be intrusive and lack sincerity. Why is this person asking me personal questions, they'd think?
We're not among the misguided here at Modulift, but we do back our customer service. We acknowledge that there's always room for improvement, however, which is why we continue to invest in making every experience a customer has with their point of contact enjoyable and memorable. Recently, for example, we set everyone a challenge to call, first, a distributor and, second, a key account, purely with a view to strengthening relationships. While many receive regular calls and visits anyway, it was amazing how much positivity was generated by the exercise.
You should try it
It's not always about schmoozing the most senior person at a company. I'd encourage staff and other readers of this blog to consider everyone as an individual with equally important business and personal requirements and interests. This is especially important to remember in an incestuous industry, where people often follow a career path and even if they do move companies they do so within the same sector. A junior employee is worth networking with and getting to know as one day he or she might become the director of a startup or another business in the industry. They'll remember who gave them the time of day and those who looked down their nose at them.
As a rule, I'd suggest companies invest 3% of their salary budget in training and development of staff, and next year we are putting a primary focus on customer service. Delivering a good product, on time and being available to answer a phone call are lessons that can't be learnt in business studies at school. To treat that as merely a starting point and take it to the levels explored above involves a more holistic commitment to customer service and infrastructure supporting that culture.
How does your customer service compare?
If you're a Modulift customer, how does ours measure up?
That's a wrap
It's trite to close my final blog of the year in reflection on the last 12 months but it's worth acknowledging the importance of celebrating achievements and learning lessons from what didn't quite go to plan. It's an opportune time to check that housekeeping is up to date and ensure a business can hit the ground running as 2018 gets underway. Our advertising schedules are booked, forecasts locked in, and trade show stands reserved, for example.
As I blogged about last time, industry can expect to see more of the 'trusted global brands' concept debuted at LiftEx last month, where we shared space with load cell manufacturer Straightpoint. The initiative will see us address a number of untapped markets and we're excited about testing the diversification potential of our below-the-hook range.
Enjoy the holidays if you're celebrating and have a fabulous New Year.
Managing Director Modulift