How have you found customer service since the pandemic started around 2 years ago?

In many areas, it has worsened considerably. My experience is that government departments and large companies are the biggest culprits here: it is commonplace to get an automatic email reply ‘apologising’ in advance for the fact that there will be a delay in responding to your query due to COVID. You’ve generally sent the email/web-form query in because the phones are not being answered ‘due to exceptional call volumes’. You then have to waste even more time repeatedly chasing up the delayed response which often never materialises at all.

But smaller businesses, too, have slipped. For example, you might think that given how hard restaurants were hit by repeated lockdowns, they’d be trying really hard to set new standards for great service and food, but it seems not. We’ve stopped going to several of our previously favourite, reliably good, restaurants because of this and are now going through the, often, painful process of trying to find new ones to replace these.

Why has customer service worsened, and what should be done about it?

Frankly, the problem starts at the top – as the old adage goes, “The fish rots from the head.” It seems leadership is not pushing the customer service agenda. As the founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, said, customer service is something the entire company should be doing.

During the disruption caused by lockdowns and other restrictions, many companies stopped training altogether, with the excuse that they could not deliver this remotely. Company communication similarly suffered as it became clear is that large-scale video meetings do not deliver the same level of participation as in-person attendance.

Technology spend generally increased, partly due to catering for remote working, but also as companies looked to accelerate their ‘digital transformation’ agenda, looking to automate more of their processes, including customer service. But, unless the underlying processes are sound, all technology does is enable things to get messed up more quickly.

It therefore comes back to leadership and company culture, again.

Companies have to instil a real culture of customer service from top to bottom, a culture where everyone is involved in customer satisfaction and it is measured across multiple criteria – just using one dimension like NPS really doesn’t do the job. And leadership teams would be well advised to feel what it’s really like to be a customer of the company – if possible themselves or, if this is not because they would be instantly recognised, using “mystery shoppers.” Use this to see where the bottlenecks are, what the service levels are really like and whether you would be a happy customer, or not.

And train staff, relentlessly! If business is quiet, that’s a great time to increase training, rather than an excuse to cut it. In the words of Sir Richard Branson, “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to.”

Customer service can be a great competitive advantage, especially in a world where this is slipping. Great customer service means customers are willing to pay more, buy more often and refer others to your business. The positive effects on growth and profitability are significant…

So, look at your business. What do your customer retention rates look like? Are you contacting multiple customers a week to ask what they think?

Would you want to be a customer of your business?

#BusinessFitness #CompetitiveAdvantage #Culture #CustomerService #Excellence #Growth #Leadership #Pandemic #Profitability #Service #WorkingFromHome #QOTW

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This Motley Fool article might also be interesting for those of you wrestling with customer service issues: 8 Examples of Bad Customer Service and How to Fix Them