As you read this the News of The World (NoW) tabloid is dead. It ‘died’ on 10th July 2011. Ironically, on its last print day, it sold seven million copies. After 168 years of print, the World’s most popular tabloid just folded up on the cusp of a potentially debilitating phone-hacking scandal. The gory details of this scandal are just emerging, but for 168 years, NoW played the part of chief malice cheerleader. With no regard to its readers and the wider society, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. International made money while it mocked the rest of the world. And the disease is contagious because the Sunday Times, another publication in the Murdoch stable has been accused of stealing former British Prime Minster’s family health records and banking details. And more will follow.
NoW was popular but not in a conventional way. It inspired fear, used underhand techniques to obtain ‘scoops’ and did myriad other things to cozy up to the powers that were, including the Conservative Party’s blue-eyed boy Mr. Cameron. Yet he now has also come to rue the relationship. NoW is no more and we won’t miss it because instead of giving customer service and respecting its readership, it sold bullshit by the barrel load. At the time of its demise, it was indeed in the gutters – tapping phones of abducted children and sundry. There was no way it could ever raise itself.
And the lesson for all of us is the importance of customer service. The need to respect and relate to our customers. There is a saying in marketing that ‘the man in a better suit always gets better service’. How often are we guilty of sizing up the customer? Trying to gauge from their appearance whether they will be able to pay. If we think the customer is good for the money then we will do our best to make a killing – laying out the red carpet and putting on our best act. On the contrary, if the customer appears to be shabby, we will pay perfunctory attention to the customer, often in the process only talking about price rather than the benefits the customer would obtain from a particular product. In many instances, we spend much more time giving customer service to the wrong person, forgetting that the one we are ignoring is probably going to be better value for money!
Customer service appears to be a culture that we don’t appreciate in our businesses. Common let downs include lack of attention and warmth to potential customers. Perfunctory answers and focus on prices. Many business people sell such a bad experience; it is impossible to see how they can develop customer loyalty. Today the customer is not just king, (s)he is a dictator, and if we are to make a sale in this competitive world we need to understand a few fundamental truths about making that sale that will keep you employed or in business. Here are a few time-tested tips.
- Learn to be a good listener. It is amazing how many times we fail to listen to the customer. In so doing, we fail to understand his needs or expectations and cut them short as they are explaining what they really do want. You are the expert, so listen and stop talking at cross-purposes. Once you have understood, you are in a position to offer a better alternative.
- Following on to the capacity for listening, use your experience to anticipate the needs of the customer, so that instead of just selling to them one product, you are indulging the customer in an exquisite and sustained experience. It is like buying a car. The relationship should not end with the purchase. It should be a lifelong relationship that yields continuing returns.
- The customer today is not just a king or queen. (S)he is a dictator and dictators can be demanding. So make the customer feel important and appreciated. Defer to the customer, send information about the product and understand that even if the customer is wrong, it is not your place to correct them. Your place is to inform them and relieve them of their money, so don’t go around being a wiseacre! You are not going to put this world right!
- Educate the customer on your product so that he/she can obtain maximum value from its use. That way you get the customer to be dependent on your product and systems. Remember it costs much more to look for new customers than to keep the ones you already have.
- Exceed the customer’s expectations. Many times you hear front office staff saying it cannot be done! This is a sure-fire way of giving up your customers. Figure out a way of delivering what you have to the customer so that they think that you are offering an alternative that meets their needs. There is no room for ‘no’ in the customer service language. At Avis, the front-end managers are empowered to even find accommodation for the customers. But that is not their business. They are in the business of car hire, but very many times their customers also need an accommodation because they are traveling. It didn’t take long for them to figure out that if they didn’t extend their service to include finding accommodation, they would be losing customers with every incoming call!
- Remember customers are both internal and external. Often we focus on external customers and ignore the linear relationships in the organization. If back-end staff are not happy, you will not be able to guarantee the quality you are delivering at the front. So keep all internal and external customers happy.
Resources about customer service abound on the Internet. But the bottom line in selling is you. You are selling yourself, so if your product is not moving, you need to go the extra mile to relate to the customer. Develop empathy, learn how to eat humble pie and to paraphrase St Augustine, do not judge the customer by his post/appearance.