Customer service is key to a brighter future



he way customers interact with retailers is changing. Where once the focus was on a transaction, organisations are beginning to accept that we are living in a relationship economy - one in which the customer

wants, and expects, dialogue with the brand on an ongoing basis. Of course, some contact will always be transactionally-

led, but increasingly the scope for emotional intelligence – anticipating what customers want and providing it to them – can be the differentiator that breeds loyalty, recommendation and repeat purchase. The question is not if this change will happen, but how

organisations are equipping themselves to deal with the reality that it is already here.

THE SOCIAL CLUB With the rise of social media it has become easier to communicate with organisations, challenge them and hold them to account. There are, for example, 38 million active social media accounts in the UK and one in five users have used them to interact with a company either by giving feedback, making enquiries or, sometimes, complaining. Where once a negative experience may have been

shared with five people, an issue aired on Twitter or Facebook has the potential to reach millions in much less time. Such figures amplify the pressure for organisations to consider how they can go the extra mile to satisfy customers and continue to build loyalty. Brand presence on social media is, of course, nothing

new. In my view, what has changed is the way social media is used. No longer should retailers see these platforms as a reactive tool. If brands are to build really strong relationships with customers - on a human level - they must use it as an informative, insightful tool to improve service. Numerous high-profile cases have shown that the

public nature of the channel can bring risks to brand reputation if not managed appropriately and consistently as part of a coherent customer service strategy. Customers no longer accept poor customer service so readily and they now have a vehicle through which they can make their feelings heard. This will challenge the leadership of organisations in

the sense that anyone now can be pulled into customer service conversations, by virtue of social media. Training and digital/social media literacy is therefore key, across any organisation. At the same time, employees need to

be empowered by their leadership to have conversations – it is the authenticity of these that builds genuine relationships.

LEADING FROM THE TOP Yet only half the employees questioned by the Institute ahead of the publication of its ‘Service goes Social’ report think their CEO and Board are interested in customer insight, with profits taking priority. The risk is that a culture of ‘delivery without thought’ prevails whereas if staff are able to talk and listen to customers, they are more likely to gather useful data which can inform future strategy. And, if leaders empower their staff, it is much more likely that customer satisfaction will be judged and improved by virtue of the whole customer experience, not just with an individual product or service. Customer satisfaction may be improving – and the

retail sector remains the leader out of 13 analysed in the UK Customer Satisfaction Index – but customer priorities are changing and understanding these will be key to the sector keeping pace with their expectations. Employee competence, attitude and behaviour are more important now than they were five years ago. It means that getting the basics right and dealing with problems appropriately are pre-requisites for sustainable relationships. As we move into another period of intense change

delivering more personalised, relevant and meaningful experiences will be how organisations can distinguish between themselves and the competition. Brands that do not adapt to the changing demands will fall behind as failure to forge relationships will ultimately have a negative effect on the bottom line.

Where once a negative experience may have been shared with five people, an issue aired on Twitter or Facebook has the potential to reach millions in much less time.

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