Everyone in business talks about the need to give great customer service and to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction, but what does that mean in practical terms for your business?

Some important questions:

  • What does good customer service mean to them?
  • What is your current level of customer service?
  • Superior - Good - Acceptable - Zero
  • Who is responsible for customer service within your business?

Let's look at these questions in more detail.

 

Talking to your customers; this is not just how you communicate in a marketing sense, but getting to know your customer's business and its needs in more detail. Thinking back to our article in a previous newsletter about up-selling and cross-selling, there could be additional sales opportunities; you might even spot sales opportunities for other businesses that you network or collaborate with. Asking your customers periodically about what they think of your service will help you to improve and will also help you to personalise the service for each customer.

Stay close to your customers to develop good customer relationships and build loyalty.

What does good customer service mean to them? The only person who can truly define good customer service is the customer. It's usually not as simple as being friendly and approachable and flexible in your dealing with your customers; that is the minimum standard. But also:

  • Delivering superior service during the actual sales process and after sales is vital. But superior as defined by the customer, so you need to know what that is in their eyes.
  • so do you do periodic customer satisfaction surveys: by your webpage, by post, by telephone?
  • and does that information help you make improvements? If not you need to change the questions.
  • Do you use customer feedback as part of your business improvement strategy or do you simply file the responses?
  • Do you meet periodically with your customers to discuss their needs and how you can improve the way you meet them?

So whether your service is superior, good or zero is judged by the customer not you or your team. Superior service is often defined as exceeding customer expectations, but first you have to know what their expectations are.

Be seen as a solution instead of just a supplier.

Who is responsible for customer service within your business?

The short answer is - everybody.

If you employee five people or more than 50 people everybody should be contributing to customer service either directly or indirectly. If that is not true of every single role in your business then what is the purpose of that role?

Successful businesses put the customer at the heart of the business.

Some components of superior customer service:

  • Saying yes, but not to the point of making a loss. Superior service is about making your business more competitive and profitable not less. But knowing and accommodating your customers' needs in a positive way is essential.
  • Doing at least what you promise you will do and aiming to do more.
  • Being flexible: remember markets are dynamic, things change; customer needs change so be aware of those changes and change with your customers.
  • Using complaints or dissatisfaction as an opportunity to get closer to superior service, and follow up: learn from it, take action.
  • Asking for feedback, doing something about it and involving all the team in the improvement process.
  • Getting to really know your customers. The aim is a profitable customer for the long-term. Many businesses do not want mere suppliers they want partners and problem solvers.
  • Having your own set of customer service standards and a customer service strategy, that all of the team buy into.

 

That's all for this month.

Peter Mulhall
Business Adviser

Business Link - the place to go for business support

Online: www.businesslink.gov.uk

BUSINESS LINK ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS

business link

I met someone at a networking event recently and we have decided that our companies should work together. Do you think that business co-operation or collaboration is a good idea?

In short: you can't be good at everything, so yes it may well be a good idea.

However, let's look at a few of the things that would be involved.

What opportunities do we want to capitalise on?

You will need to identify an opportunity. This might be submitting a joint bid on a tender, or entering another market sector, or a particularly large customer to target which otherwise you would not have the credibility, skill or the resources to convert into a customer. You may not identify a specific opportunity at the early stage, but all parties should have a purpose for wanting to collaborate.

Choose your partners - but choose wisely!

The choice of collaborative partner is critical. Sometimes the criteria for partner selection are woefully inadequate and more suitable to choosing a golf partner than a business partner. Getting on with business partners is essential, but more is needed.

Taking it on trust

Trust; this is a difficult one as it only truly forms with experience. There will be issues possibly, for some, on intellectual property and the need for confidentiality and confidentiality agreements. But ultimately you will need to trust partners, sometimes with sensitive information about your own business as you proceed to collaborate. Not only that, you will need to trust that the other parties will fulfil their responsibilities on the projects or ventures that you undertake; there will inevitably be division of labour and you are unlikely to be in a position to supervise, hands-on, the things that others are accountable for.

Skills match

One of the big advantages of business collaboration is that you gain access to skills and competencies not available in your own business i.e. the other party excels in areas where you are weak and vice versa. This doesn't happen automatically; drawing up a skills map and skills-auditing each potential partner in order to match skills required with skills available is a crucial part of the preparation stage.

Cultural match

If you, as a sole trader, are wanting to collaborate with other sole traders, understanding the other party's style of doing business, vision, view of the world around them, their values and beliefs and behaviours will be important for effective collaboration.

If you are a larger business with staff and even possibly a management team, how you go about understanding each other's business culture will need a lot of careful thought. Each MD spending time at the other's business getting to know people and processes is a good place to start.

Process matching

This is about how you or your company actually works from end to end. How you sell, market your products & services, communicate internally, & externally, deal with suppliers, customer relationship management; how you actually make the products and provide the service, how you run your admin and finance functions etc. Don't assume that because your own business runs effectively and smoothly that there will be no difficulties when you collaborate with others even if they too have a smooth running business.

Legal & structural aspects

Collaborative agreements or even legal entities may be needed depending on the depth of the relationship and complexity of the work being undertaken. Seek specialist advice.

So yes it is definitely an option to consider...

It is widely accepted that business cooperation / collaboration is a valid strategy for growing a business. There are huge benefits to be had from utilising the synergy of complementary businesses as well as potential economies of scale.

...but don't go into it blindfolded

We have only scratched the surface and looked at a few aspects, but even so it should be clear that some form of due diligence is needed before any decision is made. Good advice is essential for each party separately and, if the idea progresses, possibly a facilitator, either internal, or external to mediate and to project manage the formation and early stages of the partnership or joint-venture.

A sobering thought is that the majority of collaborative business relationships fail. So do your groundwork first, be prepared to put the time and effort into making the partnership work and you stand a chance of being one of those businesses that succeed with collaborative cooperative relationships.

In a nutshell:

  • Identify the business opportunity
  • Choose your partner carefully
  • Spend time getting to know them and their business
  • Take advice
  • Be clear about the risks and benefits

If you think that collaborative co-operative working is a possible strategy for you but you're not sure where to start, talk to one of our business advisers.

That's all for this month.

Peter Mulhall
Business Adviser
tel: 07717 290309

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Business Link - the place to go for business support

Online: www.businesslink.gov.uk/east

 

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