Interviews

Growing Business Awards 2010: Customer Excellence shortlist

7 min read

07 October 2010

From nice-guy accountants to a customer-friendly energy supplier and even an ironmonger, meet the businesses going the extra mile to keep their customers sweet. 

They may come from some of the most recession-battered industries (travel and construction, to name just two), but that hasn’t stopped these companies from doing that little bit extra to look after their customers.

  • Fed up with the “money-orientated, cut-throat” world she worked in, accountant Anita Brook set up Accounts Assist in 2008, with a mission to offer small businesses an honest, transparent and affordable service. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Accounts Assists’ unique, customer-centric edge lies in the finer details: where greedy City accounting firms charge by the entry or by the hour, slapping clients with crippling bills at the end of their contract, Accounts Assist quotes fees upfront, with the website detailing exactly what each accountancy package includes; clients have the option to spread payments over 12 months; all correspondence is free of charge – and Accounts Assist guarantees no hidden charges. But proof that the company is a hit with its customers is in the numbers: since July last year, the company has grown from 76 to 300 clients – with a 100 per cent customer-retention rate.
  • Is it possible to actually like your gas company? It seems Ecotricity customers do. Set up by ex-hippy Dale Vince OBE (pictured above) in 2003, the world’s first green energy supplier now provides green electricity and gas to 40,000 customers, working on a unique “not-for-dividend” model that sees profits invested into building new forms of green energy sources, rather than paying shareholders. With a turnover of £38m, Ecotricity is no small fry. But unlike its competition, the more Ecotricity has grown, the more personalised its customer service has become. Working on the philosophy that customer service should be “handmade”, the company has closed its call centres and removed its automated phone-menu system so that, when customers call in with a query or complaint, they talk to a real, live person, who has been specially trained to resolve their issue as quickly as possible. And it’s working – 90 per cent of complaints are resolved in one phone call; and complaint volumes sit at an exceptionally low 0.35 per cent.
  • It’s been a turbulent year for the travel industry. Cash-strapped consumers. Volcanic ash clouds. Strikes. It’s no surprise that so many travel agents have gone under. But Knock Travel is proving that a loyal customer base will see you through even the toughest of times. In fact, it’s the tough times that have really given Knock Travel the opportunity to show its customers how much they’re valued. Included in the firm’s entry are pages and pages of emails from clients thanking Knock Travel staff for going “above and beyond” to make sure they were kept informed and assisted during the volcanic-ash crisis; for organising the holiday of a lifetime; even arranging a mobile-phone top-up for a traveller who found herself out of touch on a cruise holiday. This company makes an effort to get to know its customers on a personal level, and many clients comment that it is those little extras – the courtesy calls, check-up emails, birthday cards, bouquets of flowers on special occasions ­– that keep them going back to Knock Travel.
  • Ironmongery Direct knows its customers – commercial builders, maintenance contractors, shop-fitters, joiners and property developers – face a common challenge: ironmongery is one of the final tasks in the building schedule, so they’re often under pressure to complete the job, risking penalties if they run late. But Ironmongery Direct offers them a simple but invaluable solution: more than 11,500 specialist ironmongery products available for next-day delivery. So clients can order products from the user-friendly website at the last minute and have them delivered to their home, office or building site the next day. Should anything go wrong, Ironmongery Direct’s contact centre is open from 8am to 8pm daily and the company guarantees instant money back for any product returns. And customers are impressed – Ironmongery Direct secures 600 new clients per week and customers generated from referral increased by 67 per cent last year.
  • Being a lifestyle concierge service, Ten Lifestyle Management’s customers are automatically at the heart of its business. (That’s a whopping 500,000 customers – or members – in 145 countries, speaking more than 20 languages.) Ten offers each of its members hands-on help with everything from mundane day-to-day chores, such as finding a reliable cleaner or builder, to booking a private jet or securing sold-out concert tickets in far-flung destinations. Ten’s biggest challenge is ensuring each customer request is handled by the most appropriate person, with the right knowledge, in the right time zone – and that person needs to be able to provide the kind of tailored, personalised advice and assistance their client couldn’t find themselves on Google. Are they successful? Ten’s customer-retention rate currently stands at an impressive 90 per cent. Enough said. 

Britain’s finest business leaders and entrepreneurs will gather on November 25 at the London Marriott Grosvenor Square to celebrate the 2010 Growing Business Awards. You’ll also be able to rub shoulders with business minister Mark Prisk. All booking details can be found on the Growing Business Awards website.

We’ll also bring you the inside story on all of our Growing Business Awards shortlists in a special edition of Real Business in December.