Clients Must Complain as Much as Possible

The quantity and variety of goods and services grows in Russia. But the quality of service is still not that good. The biggest part of Russian companies perceives perfect service as an elective part of work. But service is the field to be learned and introduced! Russian companies have to learn from their western colleagues.

Executive.ru asked the marketing guru Tony Cram to describe the main character features of perfect service. He is the author of specialized master-classes devoted to brand developing, service quality increasing and building strategy of long-term business relations. Tony Cram published his book 'The Finishing Touch: How To Build World-Class Customer Service' devoted to basics of perfect service.

Executive.ru: Tell us please about 3 main character features of perfect service.

Tony Cram: Perfect service is a target and a vision to aim for. In reality it is very difficult to come close to perfect because great service happens in the mind of the customer. A business aiming for perfect service will need to understand exactly what the customer needs, even when the customer does not know himself or herself what will be best for them. Secondly the business must deliver the promise to the customer, making sure that the expectations of the service are fully met. Thirdly the experience must create a great feeling for the customer, so they leave eager to return and enthusiastic to recommend the service to others. So perfect service depends on understanding what the customer needs, meeting the expectations of the customer and leaving the customer feeling positive about the experience.

Executive.ru: Is it difficult to find a company with perfect service? Maybe you could give some examples?

T.C.: Yes, it is difficult to find a company offering perfect service. This is because customers are human and may not know what they want or may not be able to explain it. And company staff are also human and may make mistakes. No company offers perfect service every time. I admire the way every employee of Ritz-Carlton hotels tries to deliver perfect service. On one occasion I stayed in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Singapore - in the night the fire alarm sounded and everyone had to walk down the stairs until it was discovered to be a false alarm. Next day in my room was a note signed by the General Manager to say 'sorry' and a bowl of fresh strawberries. In the UK, the Internet grocery delivery company, Ocado keeps its delivery promises, gives excellent information to customers and employs very helpful drivers. And sometimes the best service comes from small independent businesses - I think my dentist is superb!

Executive.ru: Do you think that perfect service is one of the main criterions to choose company for cooperation?

T.C.: Yes I agree that it is important to know the quality of service when you are pickling companies to cooperate with. A good practice is to test the service yourself as a customer of this potential partner. And if this is not possible, then interview a wide mix of actual customers. If you link to a company that treats its customers badly, this can harm your own reputation.

Executive.ru: What is the main aim of impeccable service? Do customers always need it?

T.C.: The main aim of impeccable service is to serve happy customers who return and recommend to others. Running a business with high levels of customer intimacy can be a profitable strategy. It is not the only possible strategy. In most markets there are certainly customers who are willing to pay for a high-level of customer service, but there are also customers who prefer the cheapest product and are prepared top accept lower quality service. In every market, a company must study customers to see how many seek service quality and how many are driven by price. It is a study in behavior, observing what customers do rather than asking them because customers will not always tell you the truth about the price they are willing to pay.

Executive.ru: Does creation of a first-class service mean large financial costs?

T.C.: First-class service is difficult to achieve and it always requires large amounts of effort. It depends on skilled staff with the right attributes. It depends on good systems of customer information and good facilities for customers. All these cost money. However if the company is well organized it is possible to give great service and have competitive prices.

Executive.ru: Tell us please about some free simple steps that can help to improve service in the short period of time.

T.C.: There are some simple steps to improve customer service in a short period of time. One smart action is to ask every customer a simple question - what one thing could we have done better today? If you ask the question, review the answers and put the best ones into practice, your business will improve quickly. Another action is to design the service so that it ends on a high note, with a good finale. This leaves customers more enthusiastic to return. For example a restaurant gives the customers a complimentary chocolate with the bill at the end of the meal. A smile from staff improves many services. Finally remember that a customer's name is their most precious possession. Every customer likes it when you use their name.

Executive.ru: What are the advantages of service standardization? Which companies have to create their original service?

T.C.: In mass markets, standardization of service is essential to give a good experience at an acceptable price. McDonalds have a highly effective standardized approach because their customers appreciate a burger that is consistent every time. Businesses where every customer seeks a unique experience cannot gain the benefits of standardization. A consulting firm such as Bain & Co or McKinsey must offer each client a service tailored to their requirements. The smartest companies find ways to standardize internal processes while giving the customer an individual experience externally.

Executive.ru: How to build a service model based on the needs of not abstract, but real client?

T.C.: It is essential to build the service model based on real customers, real needs and real behaviors. For this reason a good service business is always evolving and developing in response to customer feedback. An accountancy firm must serve its customers well by keeping up-to-date with changing customer needs, providing them with solutions to new financial problems as they emerge.

Executive.ru: How to evaluate the existing corporate service model and to identify its weaknesses? Which method is better to use for it?

T.C.: The best form of evaluation is customer feedback and customer responses. The best measure is the loyalty of customers and their willingness to recommend. I like the Net Promoter Score which evaluates whether a company has more customers saying good things than customers saying bad things about them. It is wise to interview customers who are dissatisfied in order to identify what disappointed them - was it over-promising and under-delivering or was it a mistake in the service provision. Learn lessons from customers. Staff members can also make helpful suggestions for improvement. Bench-marking against competitors is possible but I prefer to learn directly from customers.

Executive.ru: How to organize work with customer complaints and claims? How to analyze incoming information and to provide quality feedback?

T.C.: Customer complaint analysis is very valuable. It is always better to encourage customers to complain so that you can learn from them. An unhappy customer who walks away saying nothing teaches you nothing. Every board of directors should have a report on new complaints received for the first time this month - it is a valuable form of early warning of problems and opportunities.

Executive.ru: One of the chapters of your book tells about the way to impress a client with the idea of his importance for the company. What approaches of individual work with client should be used?

T.C.: Making customers feel important is a priority in giving excellent service. When people feel they are treated as important they feel valued and positive about returning and recommending to others. Remembering what the customer liked from last time is a low cost way of showing that they are valued by the company.

Executive.ru: Tell us please about innovations in service. How to determine the kind of innovations a company needs first of all?

T.C.: The aim of good service is that you gain superior profit from greater customer loyalty and a flow of new customers from recommendations. This means that repeat customers should notice that the service is always improving with new ideas, better techniques, improved choices, simpler procedures and so on. Innovation is important in every part of service. Finally innovative thinking can simplify services so that they are even better value for customers.

Executive.ru: Will you buy in a company whose service you don’t like but whose products you really love?

T.C.: Finally I admire companies and businesses that give great service so I always try to use them first. Of course there are some companies who invest heavily in research and development to create new and exciting products. These companies are so focused on invention and new ideas that they may neglect customer service. When the product is outstanding, I can forgive a shortcoming in service once. But if the service is always poor then I would choose another product. If a company does not care about its customers then I do not like to be one of these customers. If all customers walked away and bought elsewhere when they got poor service, then companies would have to improve their service and we would have happier lives!

Photo: ashridge.org.uk

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