When I first launched Christopher Ward with my co-founders in 2004, the aim of world class customer service goals was a founding target. This month, this is an aspiration I have found myself revisiting.
Traditionally, customer service in the luxury and watch sectors has been defined by pretentious shops often staffed by aloof assistants – whose withering looks suggest they would rather you weren’t interrupting them by actually wanting to buy something. I may be painting a particularly bad picture but then again…
Anyway, when we set up Christopher Ward, with a mission to make premium watches accessible to everyone, we also knew having fantastic customer service goals could also help us stand out from the herd – especially as an online brand.
And because we were small, the three of us were in direct touch with every customer from day one. And because outstanding customer service goals were clear business targets, we just did what we needed to do to make it so – including driving 300 miles overnight on one occasion to have a watch on a groom’s wrist for his wedding!
Before long word-of-mouth started to spread – that there was a different kind of premium watch company out there that treated customers as grown-ups, and actually loved going the extra mile to make the experience of buying a watch a memorable one!
As we grew, we ensured new people in the business were clear about our customer service goals and that they were empowered to act accordingly. And for many years, as we grew, we managed to retain our customer service halo, even enhance it.
But quite recently we began to pick up rumblings of customer dissatisfaction. By this time, the business having grown many times the size it was in the first five years, we had devolved responsibility for customer service from the co-founders (as was necessary) to other senior managers, and we were no longer as in touch with the customers as we had once been.
This was a mistake as it took us longer than it should have to hear that things weren’t what we would want them to be. But eventually, the noises off got so loud we couldn’t ignore them.
We changed some people when an opportunity for restructuring the customer service goals and the team came along (no matter what strategy you have, you have no chance of good implementation if you don’t have the right people on the bus).
Helen, our head of marketing, and I decided that every inbound customer email would go directly into our inboxes for a month. Lift off!
We learned more about the business in that month than in the previous two years and have, as a result, been able to steer the business back towards that original aim of fantastic customer service goals.
Yes, it meant thousands of emails and endless days (and nights!) reading and responding to our customers – but what an eye-opener it proved.
And although the newly revamped customer services team with their new customer services manager have now retaken the reins, we still arrange for all customer emails to land in our outlook files and I often decide to respond, especially out of normal office hours.
The reaction from a customer in San Francisco who receives a response to their question or complaint within minutes from a co-founder, late on a Sunday evening, is worth the effort every time!
So, the lesson I have learned this month is pretty clear; stay close to your customers and don’t let the excuse of scale let you off the hook. If they are your number one priority (and they should be) finding time to get the unvarnished, unfiltered truth of their experiences of your business is invaluable and very rewarding.
As happened to me it can also take you down a peg or two – and that’s no bad thing either!