Know your customer

This week is Customer Service Week run by the Institute of Customer Service. Today’s theme is Insight: Knowing your customer and how to deliver to them.

Like any relationship, people buy from people. Get to know, like and trust your customers, as people. If you get to know your customers then you will grow to like them and trust them in the same way that they will with you.

3 people round table with lap top with tables on

Ask customers for feedback, but not at the end of the whole transaction. Their last memory of doing business with you will be one of having to do a survey. It also benefits you, it doesn’t benefit them. Why should they do it? When you do work you get paid for it, right? They are paying you for a product or service, so why aren’t you paying them in some way? Provide an incentive, a small discount perhaps, and not just entering them into a competition!

Some customers don’t want to email, some don’t want to spend more time on the phone giving feedback at the end of the call, some don’t see any value in ticking a smiley face after an online chat. But many of them DO want to tell you what you did well and where you can improve.

It takes Allsorts, how to treat customers as individuals

Ensure a variety of different methods for customers to give feedback. You should be aware of the limitations and issues with each method and monitor accordingly. Think about simply asking “Would you recommend us to a friend?” which will often provide you with the same valuable information as if you had asked 10 questions. There’s always the option for the customer to give you more details if they want to do so. Again be wary of all “Yes” answers, as they could be saying that just to be quick! And ensure that the feedback is anonymous, so that people don’t feel that they have to give only positive feedback.

You could invite customers in for a fun event. (Covid safe or park the idea for when you can). For example, wine and nibbles whilst getting their feedback. Invite the customers to interview you, make videos, let them share their needs with you and the get them to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. Invite customers who have complained about your service, as they are the people you will learn the most from and who can be turned into loyal customers who will shout about your business.

Senior management staff could learn a lot about their customers by going onto the shop floor or answering the phones too. Certainly making an effort to reach vulnerable customers in the community will have benefits all round.

When you receive the feedback, use it. Use it to shape your business and most of all go back to the customers who gave you the feedback and thank them. A thank you goes a long way and a customer who knows their opinion has been valuable and useful is going to be your best advocate.

How important are good manners in business

How do you get feedback?

Where are your customer service skills? How do you improve them?

How to celebrate and recognise your customer service heroes

Bringing customer service to the Boardroom

Build your brand through Trust, Ethics & Sustainability

If you’d like more ideas on how to improve getting and using feedback see Services.

Clean up your act or get wiped out

The company kept the place clean but played dirty on the business side

My mum had a cleaner. A very good one, called Norman. Unfortunately at the beginning of lockdown he decided to stop. He has since taken the decision to cease all his cleaning work, which was frustrating and sad but it was his choice, of course. He came through an agency called Time for You that charged a quarterly standing charge for providing him.

mop and bucket

As a present to my mum, my brother and I also paid for additional days of cleaning through the same agency.

All was well. Tracy at Time for You was really lovely and even offered to go round and see my mum when it was allowed (but never did). As a freelancer myself I felt the pain of a small business and offered to continue the standing order payments until a replacement for Norman could be found and we could work out refunds further down the line and I hoped that this would help to tide them over.

However, as the months went by it became apparent that they would not be able to replace Norman with somebody suitable. This was a shame. However, at no point did I ever say she could keep the standing order money that was paid for a service that we were not receiving! My mum found another cleaner she could pay directly but we did say if it didn’t work out or the new cleaner had to give up we would hope to come back to Time for You.

After five months and seeing that Time for You was clearly back up at full capacity, I asked for the refunds. She offered to pay for the last standing order for each of us. This did not include the previous standing orders for services we did not receive to which we were obviously legally entitled! Back in March I made it clear that I was happy to be patient and wait. I did not say she could keep our money! I can be kind but not that kind! I detailed exactly how much she owed us, why and how.

“Dear Helen” and “best wishes Tracy” changed to “Hi” and “From Time for You”. Attitudes had clearly changed. I was asked what I wanted paid and to give the details of the account. She asked what I wanted paying into what accounts, so I told her again what should be paid and to whom. And I wanted it paid by the end of the week. She emailed back to say the payments would be made in the bank run in a few weeks’ time. Obviously, companies do have bank roll dates but clearly a refund should not to have to wait for this date and she didn’t even give me the date!

I emailed her back again and said that this was not acceptable, that I believed five months was long enough and that the payment should be made by the end of the week. I still did not get a reply but finally the payment was made last thing on the Friday.

This is a classic example of how not to do business. As a customer I had acknowledged the difficulties being experienced by the company and had not yet demanded the refund to which I was entitled. I had not stopped the standing orders, in the hope that we could continue and also to help her business. This kind of loyalty should be rewarded. Instead I was showed rudeness and disrespect. It was very shortsighted because we had made it clear if we needed to go back to another cleaner then we would come to her first. We would also have continued to recommend them. However, her unnecessarily unhelpful attitude was surprising, particularly given that she knows what I do for a living! She was hardly going to get away with not refunding us!

In an attempt to try and keep approximately a hundred quid she has lost goodwill and tarnished her company’s previously good name!

In the current climate it is more important than ever before to treat your customers with respect, to listen to them and to respond promptly to their requests. If money is owed as a refund then give it back promptly, without any unnecessary procrastination.

And yes, airlines and travel companies, that means you too!