It’s important to be positive and to always emphasise the bright side of every situation, but this needs to be said: There is a customer service crisis in South Africa.
Generally speaking, service has never been worse than it is today. One only has to look at:
- The lackadaisical levels of service in business
- Poor training of customer-facing staff
- Low wage levels in all customer-centric roles.
Customer service performance in South Africa is like the Springbok rugby team’s performance against Japan or England’s loss to Iceland in football. South African customer service is really in trouble. When you lose like that, someone always loses their job — don’t let it be you. We need a change in tactics or a change in management.
I’m sure you can easily list examples of poor service you’ve encountered at South African businesses in the past few weeks or days alone. It’s not good.
However, this is a great opportunity. In a business environment where bad service is almost standard, the businesses that do deliver world-class customer service will stand out like the shining lights of excellence that they are.
Excellent customer service is almost guaranteed to make you a leader in your industry and ensure your business succeeds.
Here are three secrets to success that you can implement today.
1Minimise the handovers
Every time you hand over a project, communication can break down. It’s a problem in South African business that too often a customer query or complaint is handed over from one staffer to another.
I once dealt with a media agency about a website I was trying to build. Every time I contacted them or came for a meeting, I dealt with a different person. I was told,
“Karen will be handling your project now.” Then it was Katlego. Then it was Grant. Then it was Dave. And every time, what I wanted for my website had somehow gotten lost in translation. I had to explain myself from scratch to every person. It was so frustrating! I’m not sure what was going on in that company. I would far rather deal with a one person show, where you only ever deal with Mpho and she knows your project inside and out.
Try to keep project handovers to a minimum. Especially in the systems of your company. Some firms have even built a system where you phone up and speak to one person, who puts you through to another person, who finds out what you want, then puts you through to another… This is an inefficient way of running a business.
Try to ensure that a customer gets through to someone who can actually help as soon as possible. And that every time they get in touch again, they speak to the same person.
2Make the wait worth it
Waiting areas are a notoriously neglected part of South African retail. You know the vibe: A pile of magazines from 2006, a water cooler, perhaps some powdered coffee and some sticky teaspoons around the corner somewhere, and a dead potplant.
If you don’t have your smartphone with you, you’re in for a boring ten minutes. And those ten minutes will feel like 20. And when you’re still not attended to, you’ll imagine you’ve been in that waiting-room hell for half an hour.
But consider this, the time your customer spends in your waiting area is time spent thinking. He’s sitting there flipping through a Garden & Home magazine from ten years ago, or fiddling on his phone, and he’s thinking to himself, “Now what could be taking so long!” He’s making up his mind about your business, evaluating you. If he’s having an unpleasant experience, he’ll eventually decide, “You know, I don’t have time for this,” — and he’ll never be back.
Instead of providing the bare minimum of waiting-area service, why not make the wait worthwhile. If you take your waiting area to a new level of excellence, it becomes an asset instead of a liability. Customers will come to you and look forward to the wait.
Here are some examples of how you can make your waiting area an asset to your business.
- Provide a television with DStv
- A selection of charging cables so visitors can charge their phones
- A children’s area with crayons and colouring books
- Play the radio — it’s a great form of entertainment; Talk, music or magazine shows — whatever suits your business
- A couple of computer terminals with Internet access
- A bookshelf of current reads — be they books, magazines or today’s newspapers
- An automated coffee machine that provides cappuccinos, lattes and decaf options.
3Anticipate your customers’ needs
Once you’ve been in business for a few years, you know inside and out what customer requirements are. Of course, they’re not always the same, but there are many common issues that crop up.
Try to anticipate what a customer is going to want before she asks for it. It’ll reduce her stress levels and you’ll impress her with your initiative.
Related: Customer Service Success Secrets
Here are some examples of how to do that:
- A child needs to decorate a shoebox for a school project. As a shop assistant at a craft shop, you know everything that goes into making one. Anticipate and provide everything so the mother doesn’t have to come back later that day, fuming, “Those stickers aren’t self-adhesive. We need glue!”
- A barman knows what all the locals drink at his pub. When a regular comes through the door, he finds an ice-cold glass of his favourite Castle Draught waiting for him on the bar.
- A customer at your cellphone shop is buying a new Sony Android phone after he lost his last one. Recommend he upgrade his contract to include insurance, as he is clearly a little absent-minded and may require it later.
- Everyone’s reading spectacles are constantly smudgy. Start a service at your optometrist where anyone who comes in the door gets a free clean of their glasses. You’re simply anticipating what happens with every client.
- As a hostess at a restaurant, anticipate the needs of your customers. When you show them to their table, tell them, “The bar is there, the toilets are upstairs and if you like, you can smoke on the balcony out there.”