Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Big lessons that small companies teach

From Nordstrom (a Custommerce blog favorite) to Southwest to Taj, all are brands synonymous with great customer service. Yet these and only a handful of other large corporations seem to be known for their service ethic. But at the same time, you see many small and medium sized companies consistently getting their customer service ethos firmly in place. Many may attribute that to lesser customers or negligible hierarchy but like this article in HBR will tell you, it sometimes just comes down to empathy and common sense. So where else does the secret to good customer service lie in a medium sized enterprise? And what virtues of these companies can larger enterprises look to replicate?

A large hotel in Chennai is known to give its employees Rs.1000 everyday as a limit which they can use to repair any reasons of dissatisfaction with a customer. They can use that money on one customer or ration it through the day but it gives them the liberty to improve an experience. This can involve a complimentary drink, snack or anything that the restaurant offers. The limit ensures prudence yet at the same time it allows flexibility. Now, flexibility is an important lesson that most large companies can take from smaller companies like this hotel did. Small and medium enterprises generally have the advantage of flexibility in the way they can serve their customers. They can tailor their customer service efforts as per the customer requirement. Even larger companies can work past Standard Operating Procedures and bring in some flexibility to allow for a better service experience for customers. Another great virtue which large companies can pick from smaller enterprises is of having a top management which prefers a hands-on-approach. Customers of smaller enterprise are able to reach top management with their grievances much faster then they can reach a middle manager at a large enterprise. With certain protocols in place and by basing cases on priority, even a large enterprise can achieve this objective.

On the whole large companies need to see how they can bring in initiatives from smaller companies in moderation backed by strong business cases. They can serve customers much better by steering away from rigidity towards incorporating techniques that can improve the service experience. The lessons small companies are giving aren’t very tough to understand or implement. You just need to use common sense to know how much to commit, and remember, that all your customers need, is a little empathy. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Customer service can save the day

Countries across Europe and Asia are reeling from the effects of a recession that had its roots in the US. Companies in these countries will instantly start looking at the various options available to them to manage the crisis. Options like layoffs, broad based pricing to target more customers and many more value draining methods come to the fore. What generally begins to suffer is always, customer service. But can, a recession, be the most auspicious moment to improve your customer service?

Southwest Airlines, Lexus and the Ritz Carlton are brands known to keep their customer service promise at the forefront even at the dullest of economic conditions. Brands must understand the value of upping their customer service game during the downturn as customers become more sensitive to prices and the way their service provider treats them. Customer morale is at its greatest low at this point. Investing in systems, processes or ideas  that can help build this morale can serve you well not only during the downturn but also post it, as customers will never forget the brand who showered them with the love they needed. We are moving into a time where customers are expecting soft brands. Brands that are more communicative, responsive and ready to speak. Research over the years has always proven that brands who commit resources to customer service during a downturn or who have always considered it a priority, come out of a recession stronger and with a loyal base of customers with negligible erosion over the years.

Learning lessons from companies who are focusing on customer service can be pivotal in dealing with a downturn. It can give many brands an edge over their competitors and create an advantage that in time will become sustainable, recession or not. A recession is the one time in the story of a brand that can help them concentrate on customer service, make it invincible to competitors and lovable to customers. So let’s start planning and acting, now!