Rob Short, Head of Continuous Improvement & Complaints at SSE Business Energy, shares his insight into customer service – and how to maintain the personal approach as a business grows.
How important is customer service to business growth?
With so much choice in today’s market, multiple factors contribute to a customer’s decision to use a company. Customer service is key and a big differentiator. As well as paying competitive prices, customers need to know they can trust a company and if something goes wrong it’s going to get resolved well – we must do what we say we will.
When scaling up, a good recruitment plan is vital. This means knowing where best to place people. I recommend training your team to add value to interactions, to maximise their impact on customers. You could also review your processes to see which can be automated or streamlined.
What does good customer service look like?
In an ideal world, customers should only have to get in touch if they want to; it shouldn’t be a need because something goes wrong.
In reality, it’s unfeasible for things to go perfectly 100% of the time. Good customer service means being available, understanding the root cause of what someone is saying and what resolution they need, and tailoring the answer to how they feel.
If you can do that well, then you can look at trying to delight customers too, which should always be a strategic decision. If you try to delight customers without getting the basics right, that’s when you can go wrong.
Are customers today demanding digital rather than phone interaction?
We’re seeing increasing demand for digital services so customers can handle transactional matters on the train or before their shop is open, for example. Time is precious, so communicating needs to be easy and companies need to be responsive.
That said, not all customers are the same. Understanding your audience is essential to meet their wants and needs, which might depend on demographics like age or location as well as the type of business.
We always try to pick up the phone and call the customer if it’s more complicated. It’s important to get to what the root cause is, so we can reach a solution.
What’s the best way to recognise and resolve complaints?
Being able to identify dissatisfaction is the most important thing. Unless there’s a consistent understanding of this, it’s hard to put a process in place.
The quicker you can resolve an issue, the higher the customer’s satisfaction levels. Empower your team to resolve problems straight away without long, arduous approval processes, which means having the ability to bend and flex processes.
If you can’t achieve a resolution straight away – you may have to speak to third parties or other people in the business – it’s about leaving the customer with a clear sense of next steps, giving them the confidence that you are going to own it, and making sure you deliver to those commitments.
How can a business use customer feedback to evolve?
As a business scales up, there’s a need to share feedback in a way that the decision makers understand, so they can take actions to improve across the company. We categorise feedback in three ways: processes that have gone wrong, policies that customers don’t necessarily agree with, or having a great or bad experience of a person on our team. That really helps get to some solutions.
As well as what customers say via comments and a net promoter system, we analyse their experience using performance indicators. We blend all that and map it against the customer’s journey so we can understand our different processes and how they’re performing.
When customers let us know how they feel about an interaction or their relationship with us, we thank them and see if we can help them with any broader questions.
As a business expands, how do you train and motivate employees to look after customers?
It’s about teaching customer values and what the company’s about, not just training someone to do a task. When employees know the value of the job they do, they have a sense of purpose and commitment – it’s a big motivator. People want to know they’ve made a difference in someone’s day by coming into work.
Explain what good and excellent looks like for your business. Commit time to help coach, encourage and support people to reach those high standards, rather than punishing them for falling short.
Give employees the creativity and freedom to be themselves within their role. We get employees to imagine a football pitch and tell them: the purpose is to score the goal, and these are the parameters you stay within, but how you go about that – and achieve the outcome for the customer – is entirely up to you.
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