Happy customers make for a happy business

Three things separate businesses: price, product and most importantly customer service. Years ago businesses could toy with these ingredients to create differentiation, but today it’s a lot harder to stand-out.

The Internet has opened up a world market and a whole new competitive environment for UK business meaning it is getting harder and harder to compete on price or product alone. Margins are wafer thin and so there is less flex in these two areas than there used to be.

For that reason customer service is becoming an increasingly important way businesses can rise above the competition. Organisations are actively now studying how they can improve their service and a popular course of action is to personalise their offering to suit customers’ individual needs. Sounds simple, right?

In smaller businesses the premise of personalised customer service is nothing new. They pride themselves on knowing each and every customer and dealing with their needs personally. When you start to scale-up it becomes more of a challenge; here personalisation happens instead through digital channels.

Businesses are increasingly using analytics software to automatically assess customer demographics and shopping trends in real time so that they can understand what people might like to buy next and in turn personalise their offering there and then.

The availability of pockets of data helps to segment audiences by historical purchases, behaviour and other variables, making data a valuable asset to inform how to sell and serve your customers. However, many companies that rely exclusively on digital channels are missing a very simple trick.

Personalisation is not about drilling down to the smallest detail, getting into people’s heads and working out what they want before it even occurs to them. In fact it’s much more straightforward. By going a few steps beyond the standard experience, organisations can improve customer satisfaction scores significantly.

Instead of focusing solely on making sense of data, businesses can instead simply ask customers what they think would improve the service they provide. It could be longer opening hours or a named contact when they ring up, but it’s likely to be something that is easy to change and which when implemented can make a real difference.

There are a few steps that you can take to ensure happy customers and in turn a happy business:

1. Decide what kind of business you want to be

Customers always come first, but depending on your offering as a business will determine the type of service you provide. You can’t be everything to everyone, so make the choice and stand by it

2. Continually learn from your customers

Talk to your customers; give them choices and a simple conduit for responses. When you have enough information, make sure you take on board what has been said. Learn from your customers all of the time and strive to continuously improve. When things aren’t working, accept this and try something new.

3. Tailor your service

This is not about creating the perfect service wrap, but providing customer channels that meet the needs of your customer. Keep talking to your customers and tinker with the formula when necessary. Don’t simply apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

At Vodafone, we followed this formula when we introduced our Prime Contact service. This provides a dedicated, named contact who can help each customer with their business phone needs, offering advice, support and continuity.

The service was created for SMEs so while we were developing the service we went out into the market and asked 500 businesses what they wanted. They came back with clear recommendations: on-shore call centres, a named contact and extended opening hours.

So we delivered all three. In this technological age this system feels very basic, but it has helped us create a service that is innovative, personal and unique. Because our SME customers had a role in its creation, Prime Contact has been an absolute triumph.

The technical personalisation that we see so much of today is widely pushed forward by businesses themselves and not necessarily asked for by customers. People still appreciate direct human contact when it come to service, even though most transactions are conducted automatically and without human involvement.

Our system uses technology to facilitate the human contact that so many people still appreciate. We realise here at Vodafone that our customer service is far from perfect. However, we are continually trying to improve our customer services and aim to provide the best service that we can. Getting customer service right can dramatically improve your business by reducing churn. Having happy customers takes pressure off your sales team and boosts your reputation in the market, generating a feel-good feeling throughout the business and beyond.