In a rare moment of downtime, I’ve been googling inspirational customer service quotes – as you do. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve got some strong views on this subject but I want to see what others think gets to the heart of exceptional client relationships.There are tonnes, but the common denominator is that the best relationships are just that; relationships. Not revenue, shareholder value or commodities. It really is just about people. But businesses struggle with genuine relationships, and my own industry is no exception. Inherently, we’re driven by sales targets, our shareholders or the bottom line. And often, the more successful a company becomes, the further away it gets from its customers. IT businesses in particular tend to lead with a technical sell, with customer service almost an afterthought – or with an assumption that it’s a given. It isn’t. I’ve seen so many examples of companies getting it wrong. Only by putting customer service at the heart of the business can you build and work for a company that you’re proud of, and one that your clients love. Here are my top three tips for getting it right: (1) Bill Gates: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” A service-led culture needs to come from the top – the ethos of the management team should permeate the whole organisation. The best CEOs are those that constantly ask for feedback from their staff and their customers. I remember early on in my career appreciating how important it was to ask each and every customer for a positive or negative critique of their experience. I learnt from every mistake we made but also made sure that staff were congratulated for glowing reports. Customer service isn’t a touchy-feely nice to have. It’s everything really. Build a culture where not delivering excellent customer service is seen as a disaster. Tie it into your KPIs. If you’re asking for feedback from every single client interaction then this should be easy to measure. And if the feedback is bad make changes. And make sure everyone knows what those changes are. (2) JC Penney: “Every great business is built on friendship” You don’t try to make disposable friends in life so you certainly shouldn’t have a love ‘em and leave ‘em attitude towards your customers. Smaller companies have always been much better at managing customer relationships but there shouldn’t be an assumption that you can’t maintain customer service levels as your grow. If it’s in your DNA it will grow with you. Again, use your KPIs to measure how happy each and every customer is. And treat your staff like you treat your customers – this isn’t rocket science but it still doesn’t happen enough. Your staff are your best ambassadors. If they’re bought into your company culture then it will influence everything they do for you. As companies grow, it’s inevitable that a hierarchy appears. But what should never happen and too frequently does is that the people left on the frontline of client service don’t have the knowledge to deal with queries. Nor do they have the confidence to escalate them if they’re unsure. Make the whole process of finding the right person for the right query as easy as possible. (3) Mother Teresa: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless” Don’t forgot to tell your customers and your staff how brilliant they are. I hope every customer and staff member I’ve ever worked with feels that I’ve cared about our relationship. It’s so central to growing a successful business. Look at John Lewis – a shining example of a company that has grown but has retained a culture which places its staff and customers at the heart of everything it does. The emotional attachment and genuine relationships that the company has built on the back of that ethos is key to its success. A lesson there for any size business, in any industry. Daniel Keighron-Foster is managing director of Steamhaus.
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