Caring for the customer
Caring for one's customers is the key to survival during the economic downturn, according to Myles McHugh, a professional coach and independent business adviser.
If you are a business owner how can you gain the competitive edge today as companies are folding and sales figures plummeting?
By providing exceptional customer service, says local professional coach and independent business adviser Myles McHugh.
“I have a saying - ‘There is very little traffic on the extra mile.’ “If you go the extra mile you will stand out. It will create a situation where you have a wow factor for customers.
“I went to a restaurant recently where I didn’t order a starter, just a main course,” he says. “One of the things on the starter was soup and they brought me out a complimentary taster of it. I was wowed, they were doing that extra bit, showing an interest and it definitely made an impact. There are lots of small things you can do.”
Caring for one’s customers is the key to survival during the economic downturn, he believes. “Customer service is crucial. Businesses nowadays, in lots of cases, have managed to get costs under control so the only way companies, especially small ones, can differentiate themselves from others is by offering a better service.”
For him exceptional service means customers getting what they expect in a caring manner. “And any issues that arise should be dealt with expeditiously and effectively - if things do go wrong they are dealt with promptly and to the satisfaction of the customer. This does not always happen, very often companies put their own needs ahead of the customers.”
If a customer is unhappy with a service or product it is important to act quickly, he says. “How you recover service when something goes wrong is very important. If a breakfast in a hotel goes wrong how do you deal with that? For me it’s very simple. You admit and acknowledge to the customer that it did go wrong. The normal instinct of anyone is to defend what they’ve done. We get emotional. Don’t be defensive. You already have a problem. You don’t want to create a second one by being defensive.
“For me a customer should never be wrong. You mightn’t agree with their view but blaming the customer is the wrong move. If they say ‘It was not what I expected’ then it wasn’t what they expected. You need to offer some form of recompense, such as the meal not being put on the bill and say sorry. If you do these things you have defused the situation. It has to be done quickly and effectively. There is huge evidence out there that where a customer has a bad experience their loyalty can be greater after the event if you handled it properly.”
He believes people in the frontline whom customers tend to approach initially with their complaint should be empowered to a certain level to deal with it.
“They should be able to resolve most issues that arise without recourse to a manager. If you empower frontline staff they are way more conscientious. They feel they have a stake in it. Companies also need to identify the likely critical issues which could arise and have a plan to deal with these. It could be a one page plan. If you are in the business of serving food you should be able to identify what could go wrong and have a plan to deal with it. You should not just wait for something to happen and act on the hoof.”
Staying financially afloat is a major challenge in the current climate and companies must use every skill at their disposal, according to Mr McHugh.
“You must make a decision to offer the best service in your field. You need to talk to staff and customers about what you expect from your service. If you invest in people - in time and effort - and get them to understand how the customer relationship works, that will help.”
His advice to people setting up a business is to “recruit well” hiring people for their attitude primarily.
“You can train anyone to do anything, within limits, if they have the right attitude. Obviously people have to have certain skill sets but you can develop people after that. Recruit those with attitude and then develop these people and they will become the best.”
Customers’ needs are different today, he feels. “There are lots of reasons for this - the range of products and services out there has changed so people have options to switch to alternative ones. Customers are more sophisticated in their demands too and can be a lot more critical of poor service. People who have experienced good service, either here or abroad, when they get poor service they are a lot more critical and less willing to accept it.”
What are the secrets of success in business? Myles McHugh says the first secret is knowing what customers want and what they expect from you.
“You must work on delivering that. You do this in two ways (1) by having procedures and processes in place to deliver consistent, excellent, quality and (2) by employing the best people or the people you have have to be at their best [we can’t always go out and hire the best]. If you put excellent procedures alongside excellent people you will get exceptional service.
“There is no secret in that, it is hard work. It is about sitting down and knowing what your strategy is to deliver customer service, then having guidelines of delivery if you don’t. If you are running a hotel, for example, you need to know that all the important things are covered every morning. Once the processes are in place you have to set standards for people’s behaviour - what you expect from them and how they interact with customers. If you can achieve both of these I’m sure excellent service will be delivered.”
He says companies should not be above advice and should be willing to learn from others. “I gave a talk in Ballybane Enterprise Centre recently which provides a free mentoring service to people setting up small businesses. Over 60 Galway business people have signed up to offer free advice.”
Former supermarket supremo Feargal Quinn once said the customer is king. Myles “absolutely” agrees with this statement. He says US businessman Stew Leonard who has supermarkets dotted all over New York believes so much in this principle that he has it carved into stone.
“There is a big granite rock at the front of his buildings upon which he has carved two rules. Rule 1 is the customer is always right. Rule 2 says if the customer is ever wrong re-read rule number one. His supermarkts win awards year on year for the service they provide.”
Good old fashioned politeness, helpfulness and friendliness are as important in today’s fast paced society as they were in the past, he maintains. Building a relationship with your customer is important too.
“I remember Charlie Garavan when he had a grocery shop in William Street, he knew everyone by name. He knew how many children they had. That was showing interest in his customers and pure courtesy. There is lots of stuff we can do about relationship building, such as forming a rapport with customers. People prefer to do business with people they like rather than someone who isn’t interested in them.”