National Customer Service Week is an annual event that is held in the first week of October and highlights the importance and benefits of providing good customer service.

The Institute of Customer Service has found that satisfaction with Public Services has improved, although it has fallen in the tourism sector. John Lewis, First Direct and Nationwide are rated highest for customer satisfaction.

Which? Customer Surveys consistently identifies the best and worst banks, broadband and energy providers, airlines and high street stores for customer service.

In an era where everything is much the same, the one thing that sets a firm apart from its competitors is providing excellent customer service. Customers know and understand that things can go wrong. It’s how problems are dealt with that makes the difference. Customers simply want an easy and seamless customer service and experience.

We are living in different times now. Many people have found themselves vulnerable through no fault of their own and companies have had to adapt to survive. Protecting and supporting employees and vulnerable customers has now taken centre stage.

Covid has shone a spotlight on the best and the worst firms. Customers will remember who did the right thing and who didn’t for years to come.

FIRMS THAT GET IT RIGHT

Marks and Spencer is renowned for delivering a consistent good customer service and experience. I don’t know of anyone personally who has had a bad experience, they have a ‘no quibble’ service and they know that their reputation is everything.

Marks and Spencer has been struggling on the high street for a variety of reasons for years. A family friend received a textbook response to flowers that only lasted a couple of days, which she never expected.

I spoke about Jet2 and Lookers in a breakfast interview with Lady Janey and how they set the benchmark for others to aspire to.

Other firms that are highly rated by Which? consumers in their survey include Waterstones, O2, Waitrose and Lakeland.

FIRMS THAT GET IT WRONG

Airlines

Airlines have certainly been in the spotlight this year for all the wrong reasons. Ryanair always props up the table of the worst airline to deal with in Which? Customer Surveys. I haven’t had a bad experience with them, although I know plenty of people who have. I won’t use them again knowing that you have no way of resolving any complaints if / when things do go wrong.

British Airways has set the bar this year for all the wrong reasons. How this has affected the mental health of pilots and crew is anyone’s guess.

Airlines misleading customers on their consumer rights by removing the option for cash refunds and forcing customers to take vouchers has backfired. Customers were encouraged to take vouchers to help the airline industry survive, only to find the airlines moving the goalposts leaving customers out of pocket.

Firms that do not consistently deliver good customer service will eventually find they have no customers at all. We only have to look at Thomas Cook to see how that worked out, whereas Jet2 are thriving and expanding routes year-on-year.

I was appalled to hear of this customer’s experience with Thomas Cook when I was on holiday in Greece in 2019. I wasn’t surprised to hear that they folded a few months afterwards.

High Street Stores

Currys PC World have been rated poorly for years for their complaints handling which has taken centre stage this year. Alice Beer spoke about Currys PC World on This Morning in July, and the sheer volume and scale of complaints is unprecedented.

I identified 30 different fob offs that staff are trained to use when dealing with complaints. Currys have blocked me on Twitter now for trying to help their own customers!

Broadband Providers

I hear the same complaints with Virgin Media and EE where they blame third parties for problems instead of taking ownership and doing the right thing.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that goods and services need to be:

  • Fit for purpose
  • As described
  • Satisfactory quality
  • Carried out with due skill and care

Your contract is with the provider so it is their problem to resolve the issues. I have seen complaints where Virgin Media have blamed Thames Water and Sky and EE have blamed Openreach.

Broadband providers need to take ownership, resolve the issues and automatically provide compensation where appropriate.

Car Dealerships

Car dealerships seem to attract the most complaints. Buying a car is the second biggest purchase you are likely to ever make, yet car buyers are usually seen as a one-off opportunity to fleece and rip off with add-ons which are commission based.

Warranties that have more holes in them than a block of Swiss cheese are the most lucrative. They also create the most complaints with consumers not fully aware of their consumer rights.

The complaints and fob offs revolve around either not taking a warranty or the warranty doesn’t cover that item. Any resistance by motorists on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 is met with a dismissive response.

Some experiences that I have seen defy belief. Can you imagine putting your car in for a service / repairs, having it stolen from the premises by ram-raiders and being fobbed off by the dealership who refuse to accept responsibility?

CULTURE OF AN ORGANISATION

Richard Branson famously said that clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.

What goes on inside an organisation invariably projects outside. If the Directors and Senior Management don’t engage and look after their staff with a focus on customer service, this will affect staff morale and service delivery.

There is no hiding place either. It just takes one whistle-blower to share their experience on social media or with a journalist and it’s there for the world to see.

TREATING CUSTOMERS FAIRLY

Treating Customers Fairly should be the cornerstone of every organisation, yet too many firms see customers as a one-off opportunity to fleece them rather than play the long game. The focus should be on providing a seamless and enjoyable customer service and experience.

This will inspire loyalty and word of mouth recommendations with customers acting as free ambassadors for the company.

Increased sales, profits, loyalty and recommendations in the long term will go much further than simply seeing customers as a one-hit wonder on sales.

COMPLAINTS HANDLING PROCESSES

Every firm should have an effective complaints handling process that works and is fit for purpose.

Covid is the new catch-all excuse for fobbing customers off and lockdown has brought with it new opportunities to delay and reject legitimate complaints. Some firms including Currys PC World have deliberately made it virtually impossible to complain by removing contact details, telephone numbers and email addresses from their websites.

Customers have given firms plenty of time to adapt but they won’t be fobbed off forever. They will want a refund sooner or later and making life difficult for them isn’t the answer.

THE BENEFITS OF COMPLAINING EFFECTIVELY

Every firm should see complaints and concerns as an opportunity to address any deficiencies.

This provides firms with the opportunity to raise their game, manage customer retention, increase sales and actually recognise that they have a problem or a missing link within their organisation.

FEEDBACK

One way of doing this is to employ professional Mystery Shoppers. Some firms simply don’t care and rely on the fact that they have a monopoly to carry them through. Bad experiences can and do go viral now in the world of social media, forums and review websites.

Managing complaints in a timely and professional manner saves a lot of time, resources, money and reputational risk and damage. How far you go in trying to put things right can make a huge difference.

Inviting those who have had a bad experience back to their premises is a creative way of asking for suggestions and feedback. This may be seen as a risky strategy as they are going to meet people who have annoyed them and have taken up their time, but what have they got to lose? They have lost a customer, but the feedback that they will happily provide is invaluable.

PUTTING THINGS RIGHT

Every firm should always respond to customers and see complaints as opportunities. Feedback, information and various opportunities are invaluable to a business to improve their sales, loyalty, recommendations and profits.

Consumers know that things can go wrong. It’s how a complaint is dealt with and remedied is what matters and makes all the difference.

Positive and creative thinking about dealing with complaints and feedback can improve the customer experience, service and sales beyond measure.

National Customer Service Week shines a spotlight on this, although we shouldn’t need an event to highlight why good customer service is important.

Which firms would you recommend and avoid for National Customer Service Week? Can you add anything to this?

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