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Good, old-fashioned customer care

Go back to basics to delight your customers

Today's apparent fixation with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) makes it almost impossible to browse through a corporate website without being plagued by yet another article on the subject. Yet is this necessarily a 21st century phenomenon or has the corporate world simply invented a new label for what we used to know as customer care? Have we in fact lost sight of the straightforward notion of customer service?

David versus Goliath

To the large enterprise, CRM is all about employing sophisticated software to maximise its revenues. Fledgling companies with smaller budgets, on the other hand, are rightly more concerned with delighting their small but growing band of customers by providing excellent customer service at every possible opportunity.

This is certainly the view held by Yehia Oweiss (right), managing director of London-based (Hauppauge Digital UK) and a qualified Chartered Institute Marketing (CIM) marketer. "As a small team, we realise that every single contact we make with our customers gives us the opportunity to improve our reputation with them and increase the likelihood of further sales," he says.

Hauppauge's 10-person customer support team handles as many as 200 telephone calls each day to its technical helpdesk and sales enquiry line. "Whilst our products are sold exclusively through some 15 e-tailers and 10 high street retailer chains, every single item is backed by at least 12-months telephone support," he declares.

The feel good factor

Oweiss believes customer care is all about putting methods in place to maximise your customers' satisfaction with your business. He says it should be a prime consideration for every small business because a small business' sales and profitability will clearly depend on keeping its customers happy.

"When I interview prospective staff, I am always on the look-out for applicants who not only have a sound knowledge of our product area and are enthusiastic about technology, but who also demonstrate excellent people skills," says Oweiss. "My staff are trained to treat all callers equally. One call might be from a guy who has just bought a 20 item, the next might have purchased several thousand pounds worth of systems. At Hauppauge, we make no distinction because we know full well the little guy might turn out to be our next major sale.

"It's also important that our employees believe in the reputation of the company. One of our greatest assets, I believe, is our focus on the feel good factor in our approach to customer service. We go out of our way to make life as easy as possible for customers. For instance, unlike many larger vendors, we don't quibble about supporting a caller whose product warranty happens to have expired. Believe it or not, we've found that we generate many more sales in this way."

Psychology comes into play

To Oweiss it's simply common sense - being friendly, helpful and polite is more likely to win converts to your business than finding objections or putting up barriers. "Because our guys are highly skilled technical experts it's sometimes tough for them to talk patiently to Joe Public at a very basic level, but that's what they're trained to do.

"So unlike the faceless call centre agents engaged by many large vendors who keep you hanging on the line for an eternity then blind you with science read from a script, our guys go to great lengths to keep it simple. This is where psychology comes into play because often customers simply want someone friendly to talk to. Of course we're not perfect, but we really try to be as good as possible at what we're here to do - provide customer service. You should try calling our helpline and judge for yourself," he says.

The gauntlet was laid down, so that's precisely what we did. And lo and behold, it turns out Oweiss is spot on. Within a couple of minutes, an unsuspecting chap had provided us with a clear answer to our bogus product enquiry, advised us on the differences between the three products in that particular range and informed us of our nearest outlet. 10 out of 10.

Deciding factors

Admittedly, customer care is more directly important in some roles than others. For receptionists, sales staff and other employees in client-facing roles, customer care should be a basic element of their job description and a fundamental criterion when recruiting.

But whatever you do, don't neglect the importance of customer care in other areas of your business. For instance, your dispatch department may have little contact with your customers, but their performance when fulfilling orders will undoubtedly have a major impact on their satisfaction. Here are some of the factors your customers will undoubtedly take into account:

the perceived value for money you offer

how well your products/services match their needs

your employees' professionalism, friendliness and expertise

how efficiently/reliably you fulfil orders

the level of after-sales service you provide

how well informed you keep them

Key Performance Indicators

At the same time, there are programmes you can bring into play to increase your levels of customer care and assess your performance in specific business areas. For instance, you should identify those Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which reflect how well you're responding to your customers' expectations. You might consider monitoring:

how many queries or complaints you receive about your products or services

how many damaged or faulty goods are returned

your average order-fulfilment times

repeat sales rates

how many contacts you make with a customer each month

how much marketing material you sent out and what responses were generated

Your customers and employees - and even suppliers - are useful sources of information about the KPIs which best reflect the customer service hotspots in your business. This feedback must inform the way you build your business in the future.

And of course there are important areas of customer service which are more difficult to measure. For example, human factors such as your receptionist's telephone manner or a salesperson's conduct when visiting customers. In these areas it's vital you elicit feedback from clients on their perception of your customer service. Sample customer surveys and the occasional phone call to a key customer can help you gauge customers' perception of the service levels in your business.

"But to my mind, one of the most important performance indicators is how many complaints you receive about your employees," says Oweiss. "I always tell my team I'm not going to sit there monitoring their work. If they're not performing well I'll hear it first from the market. The MD is the one who gets that letter of complaint and I'm pleased to say I've yet to receive one," he proudly concludes.

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