16th Apr 2007 - 00:00
Question: "Is customer care just about being nice to the client?"
Answer: From Linda Martin, director of programmes, HCIMA The hospitality, tourism and leisure industry is totally dependent for its success on its customers - they are at the heart of everything we do. This is why it is so vital for industry professionals like yourself, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, to develop an enduring service culture that not only enables your businesses to meet customer expectations, but exceed them. It is a people's industry and as such it is vital to recruit helpful, enthusiastic and outgoing staff with good social skills - who first and foremost like people. Indeed, it is worth remembering: recruit for attitude and induct for culture. Being nice to guests, however, is just the tip of the iceberg - there is so much more to the science of delivering good customer service. That is not to say that first impressions do not matter - they most certainly do. First impressions do exert a strong influence - both in respect of repeat business and word-of-mouth marketing. A customer will start to make decisions about your business within seconds of crossing your threshold or after the opening line in a telephone call. Perception and expectations are subjective, but businesses would do well to reflect on the fact that when we communicate, it's not what we say, it's how we say it and how we look. Posture and positive body language, as well as the pitch of our voice, are areas for attention. Customer service training, therefore, needs to include the building of empathy, self-awareness and conversational skills. In addition to developing effective behaviours, you need to establish what your customers' expectations are, as well as what aspects of your service will exceed satisfaction and which ones are likely to cause dissatisfaction. A good place to start in ensuring customer satisfaction is defining exactly what the term actually entails for your business. Once you have done this, find a way that guarantees you always deliver the service promise to avoid client disappointment, stemming from service gaps and a mismatch of expectations. It can be, for example, very harmful for businesses if they are tempted to overstate what they can provide and consequently under-deliver. Customers must feel secure, as well as confident in your organisation's capabilities to deliver on the service promise. They must also believe that the organisation will be able to cater for their needs. Today's sophisticated customer - who now, more than ever, has the ability to compare and contrast service experiences - wants more than satisfaction. Clients know their value and this means that you need to view them as collaborators, co-developers and investors. A customer-centred organisation makes it easy for its customers to deliver suggestions and complaints. These information flows provide businesses with many good ideas and enable them to act rapidly to resolve client problems. However, you must not conclude from this that you can get a full picture of customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction by solely running a complaint and suggestions system. Extensive research has shown that clients can be dissatisfied with one-in-four of their purchases, yet less than 5% will complain. It is these clients that have the propensity to inflict the biggest wounds - they will simply change allegiance. For this reason, complaint levels cannot be the only measure for customer satisfaction. To remedy this problem, you can use external assessment, mystery shoppers and lost customer analysis to gauge the service experience, and ascertain where improvements can be made. Achieving service excellence does require effective service measuring tools, robust service procedures and policies, but these factors alone will not engender customer loyalty and retention. I believe that creating a sustainable service culture involves quality management, training and development; and suggest that JL Heskett's excellent and very relevant Service Profit Cha