Customer service is one of those issues that keeps on being raised. 

People emphasise with me how much weight they place on customer  service.  But there are really two issues here.  Lack of both can cause profit leaks.  They are front-line customer service and - "How do we enable our staff to provide good service?"  Do you have a customer service strategy?

Where should "customer focus" - a customer service culture, start?  I would suggest it starts at the top.  This is the role of leadership. 

In an article some time ago in Business Review Weekly , Professor Paul Rizzo, Dean of Melbourne Business School said, "To achieve sustainable competitive advantage in today's fierce market conditions, companies cannot ignore their customers.  Strategy, systems and people must be built around satisfying customers" (my emphasis).

Customer focus starts with choosing markets and competitive strategies which maximise the core competencies of the business - after all, you are more likely to be able to provide good customer service if you are in a market place whose requirements you have the skills to meet.  Otherwise your sales could be costing your profits!

It also means selecting customer groups and market segments (for example, strategic, profitable, significant) and finding out what is important to them.  Having done that, you might wish to develop value propositions that add value for each of these groups or segments.

You might need to determine not only current customer requirements but also future customer requirements.  You might also need to prioritise them.  Customers have their own priorities.  What is the relative importance of their needs and expectations - from their point of view, not ours?

Does your business understand what it needs to aim for in order to meet customer and market requirements?

It is top management who have the responsibility for ensuring that customer requirements are determined properly in these areas and are met with the aim of having satisfied customers who are loyal.  Loyal customers will come back and spend more.  Management have the responsibility to ensure that appropriate communication processes are established within the business so that people in the business know how to determine what customers want, how that information is fed to the people who are going to supply the customers and how they react to service they receive.

It is top management who should set in place the systems so that we know whether the business is providing effective and efficient customer service.  Irrespective of who actually deals face-to-face with the customer, it is the responsibility of top management to make sure that the business's staff understand what the customers are saying, and that the business is capable of meeting their expectations.

Management sets the framework by determining what the customer expects of the business.  This could involve:

  1. talking to customers;
  2. carrying out market or customer surveys;
  3. accessing industry reports; and
  4. identifying niche marketing opportunities.

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