Opinion

Are your customers always right? Taking pointers on service from Mr Selfridge

5 min read

24 December 2018

Britons tend not to be too vociferous when it comes to complaining. But this is all changing, says Real Business columnist Charlie Mullins.

Generations of keeping a stiff upper lip means people would rather mutter silently under their breath before vowing never to darken the door of an offending business again.

Things are changing, however, particularly with the advent of social media. And it really is in the interests of SMEs to tackle the whole issue of delivering excellent customer service full on.

A certain Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of the famous London department store and the inspiration for TV drama Mr Selfridge, coined the phrase “the customer is always right” back in 1909.

Even then, he recognised the importance of providing customers with good service and ensuring his staff provided exactly that.

So, it’s a little alarming that 66% of people in 2018 have experienced bad customer service, according to a YouGov survey.

More than two in five people have had cause to complain about poor customer service (48%) or late deliveries (44%).

According to the statistics, commissioned by online site Resolver, one in five of us are reluctant to complain. Some 17% say it’s too much hassle, 18% believe it’s not worthwhile and 17% conclude the result simply isn’t worth the bother.

This might be because 18% feel their complaints are rarely resolved.

Many business owners and managers may celebrate such a trend – why would you want to waste all that time and effort dealing with complaints to the satisfaction of the customer?

They may not have taken the time to consider exactly what the loss of just one customer is worth to their business, but those habitual offenders will soon see the financial proof written in red across their monthly accounts.

SMEs ignore customer service at their peril. I founded my business in an industry notorious for cowboy operators. My success was founded on the creation of a respectable brand, providing great service and always listening to the customer.

Pimlico has a dedicated customer services team, which supports our customers and responds swiftly should any issues arise. Our tradespeople are trained to be courteous and professional.

That’s why you’ll certainly never see a builder’s bum on a Pimlico engineer!

The value of repeat custom for any business is immense and it’s a point of pride for me to look at the fantastic customer feedback we receive. It’s one of the best ways to measure success.

But when those comments aren’t so complimentary, for whatever reason, it’s vital not to ignore them, but to both listen and learn and ensure mistakes aren’t repeated in the future.

After all, many an SME survives on word of mouth recommendations, which can easily save thousands of pounds in traditional advertising.

Not only is it free but, according to one global poll, 84% of consumers prefer receiving this so-called ‘earned advertising’ from someone they know over any other form.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Often SMEs are so focused on delivering its product or service that the dear old customer is completely forgotten about.

Businesses should above all understand their needs, be consistently helpful and respectful, never break a promise and deal effectively with complaints when they arise with good grace.

After all, a happy customer is more likely to remain loyal to a business, increase the amount and frequency of their spend and become an enthusiastic walking advert.

Should that fail to persuade an SME about the value of customer service, then the survey also found that 81% of people would be unlikely to buy products or use a service again if their complaint was badly handled.

I don’t think Mr Selfridge would be at all surprised!

  • May I also take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2019.