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Understanding Customer Service


Customer service is a term used in a variety of contexts and situations to describe the provision of goods or services, delivered in a satisfactory way. Huge amounts of academic work has been devoted to the subject, backed up by corporate research and management consultancy each claiming to define its nature, role and delivery.


Within the range of competing opinions and guides, one thing is clear it has clear financial benefits for businesses. In a nutshell, those who deliver good customer service (within an effective operational framework) will generally do more, higher value and better business with their customers. Those who deliver poor service will gradually lose customers and revenue.


Simply put, a customer will deal with a front-end member of staff far more often than he or she will engage with a senior level manager. So this means that the front line staff must be trained effectively, rewarded and incentivised to delivery and understand the crucial role that they play in attracting and retaining clients. Often however it's these advisor and assistant jobs which are the least valued in a company. They will tend to be poorly paid and often staffed by temporary, flexible or less-trained staff.


This makes little sense. The experience is governed by the person they engage with on the front line, when buying goods from a business. No matter how strong the Marketing strategy, the price differential, the product feature or the advertising campaign - the initial competitive advantage can easily be eroded by a less than satisfactory service experience. This might be because the staff member on the other side of the telephone, desk, email or other communication channel is uninterested, unhelpful, ill-equipped to deal with the query, or lacks knowledge and skill to handle the query.


There is nothing more frustrating than contacting a call centre and speaking to an unhelpful advisor. Other common gripes include people contacting a company and not getting a timely or adequate response, speaking to an advisor who cannot complete the sale or query, or who does so incorrectly, or a who experiences initial excellent customer service during the period that the business is trying to win their custom - only to find extremely poor customer service later down the line, once they are tied into a service contract. This has been a common complaint recently with a number of service businesses including banks, telecoms providers, broadband providers and insurance providers, who may offer different contact routes depending on whether the individual is a new or existing client.


Bad customer service can lead to bigger problems for a business too if they are governed or regulated. For example, OFCOM is the regulator for the telecoms industry and investigates customer complaints into poor service provision as part of its remit.


It is possible to make great strides with customer service, making use of training, technologies and organizational culture. For example, customer relationship management systems and contact centre management technologies can help those employed in these jobs to find the information they need about a customer, their service and query history and pertinent updates and facts about their account.


Training should be delivered regularly, to all staff and be followed up by regular refresher sessions and other knowledge building opportunities within the company. Mentoring and coaching systems can also be very effective - where more experienced members staff share their expertise and knowledge with more junior staff, to help them progress and develop the skills for the job.


Internal culture is the other hugely important element of delivering good service. If a businesses' directors lead from the top with the message that service is key and that they are personally committed to improving how they deliver it - this will set the tone of voice for the company and its direction. They can further implement strategies such as effective internal communication, feedback systems, staff performance monitoring, incentives and realignment of personal targets towards goals and other approaches to start to build a truly ethos for the business.


These steps will offer a business a competitive edge in the marketplace, if they can integrate their efforts to focus on great customer service and keep continuing to build their provision. It's valuable also for businesses to constantly monitor the international marketplace to see what their competitors are doing - and make sure they stay ahead of the game!

Retailers Forum understands the importance of good customer service and encourages our readers of the number one magazine for wholesale merchandise to encourage good service within their businesses.