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.”
The Future Of Franchising Looks Smaller (And Fancier)
Franchises are adding smaller locations and reduced menu options, as niche markets emerge, to attract the customer of the future.
As the owner of a thriving franchise, you’re well aware of the fact that fluctuations in the world economy has both negative and positive effects on business. When it comes to your successful franchise, tough times could mean adopting new trends or seizing gaps, potentially resulting in a new franchise concept you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
“The buzz word in global franchising is ‘flexibility and adaptability’,” according to the Franchise Association of South Africa (FASA). “Whether a result of a need to inject some life into stagnant franchise brands or as a result of the new world order brought about by the recession, franchising is embracing alternative and options in a big way.”
You can do this by either devising innovative areas to franchise or allowing more flexible ways for franchisees to operate to help with their bottom line. FASA has earmarked these as some of the biggest franchising trends in 2018 and beyond:
Smaller, more cost-effective franchise models
When franchisees don’t have high franchise fees and start-up costs to worry about, they can focus more on what customers want, and deliver. The added benefit of smaller spaces include having fewer employees and reasonable rental.
Among the new frontiers in franchising are the food court losing its legacy as the preferred setting for food franchises, as service stations increase in popularity in the industry. A number of brands – like Steers, Debonairs and Mugg & Bean On-the-Go outlets – are co-locating with major fuel retailers to create fully-integrated accessible centres.
Niche markets are offering one-of-a-kind franchises
“The opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new franchise trend is also on the rise,” notes FASA. This could be offering a unique gourmet food experience in your outlets or a ‘green’ space of energy saving technology in your operations.
“Consumers have gained control of what they want,” says Morné Cronjé, head of franchising at FNB Business. “It is no longer about what you have on the menu, but how your product or service can be tailor-made to what a customer really wants.”
Founded just five years ago (2013), RocoMamas boasts over 60 franchise outlets, clearly responding to the essence of this trend –allowing consumers to build their own burgers without having to pay for items they’d rather leave out.
Stay ahead of the game
For long-term success, franchisors who want to expand their business should start exploring beyond present circumstances and current predictions.
“2018 will no doubt bring its challenges, however for every challenge there is a window of opportunity to explore. We are advising franchisors to scrutinise these trends carefully, it can definitely give them a boost for 2018,” says Cronjé.
As Consumers’ Tastes Change Can Your Franchise Keep Up?
More of your customers are eating in, and if you’re not packaging, portioning and pricing your food accordingly, they’re heading to a retailer that does.
It’s generally believed that it’s cheaper to cook your own breakfast, lunch or supper than to go out and pay a much higher price for the same food in your fridge at home. But today’s consumer’s live fast-paced lifestyles – so food is becoming more about convenience.
31% of 6 022 middle-to-high income South African earners surveyed by BusinessTech, put eating out and entertainment at the top of their list of things they’re most willing to cut their spending on in 2018 to save money. Research by supermarket giant Pick n Pay correlates, reporting an increase in customers buying quality convenience food, not just to entertain at home, but for dining at home.
Consumers are empowered by variety
You’ve heard about the ‘fast casual generation’, aka Millennials? They are demanding healthy, affordable eating experiences. But do you know how this affects the future of the food industry, and your business in particular – because they’re not the only ones adapting their lifestyles.
An increasing number of food brands and chefs are compelled to create complete ranges of new, convenient meal options that are not only packaged, portioned and precooked attractively, but affordable too.
The fastest growing sector of retail foodservice for the past four years has been the convenience store sector. Non-traditional avenues of distribution are growing, gobbling market share while establishing new patterns of consumption, price points, and customer loyalty.
Shoppers are becoming value-focused
A savvy franchise would acknowledge that although pre-packaged and pre-cooked convenience food isn’t a new trend among consumers and supermarkets, it is gaining popularity. “Some of the most notable trends in 2017 were an increasing shift to convenience foods as customers looked for both value and convenience,” says Pick ‘n Pay’s Head of Marketing, John Bradshaw.
Value for money and healthier food choices will continue to be top of the convenience food list for consumer in 2018, as more shoppers cut down on luxuries.
“We’ve seen significant growth in the number of customers looking for an easy way to enjoy a good meal without the cost of eating out,” says Bradshaw.
But he cautions that South African shoppers have always been value-focused, and while the most significant shift Pick ‘n Pay has seen is how all its shoppers, no matter what their income levels, are watching their budgets.
Maximise Your Social Media Reach This Holiday Season
Quick and cost-effective, social media is your best tool to reach target markets when it matters most – during the holidays.
It’s not just the end of the year that can be lucrative for businesses. School holidays and other major breaks during the year present consumers with more time to spend shopping. Why not ensure money is spent at your franchise by capitalising on the minimal cost and maximum exposure of social media?
You don’t have to create entirely new deals or promotions from what you may already have running on your store, but find a way to make it special for your social media followers, suggests Kelly Mason, marketer at Customer Paradigm.
Holiday campaigns on Twitter, benefitting from popular hashtags, streaming live content, and receiving information instead of just distributing it via social media are just some of the ways to stay ahead of the competition.
Know your customers well
The first step to attracting customers and getting them to complete a sale is understanding their customer journey.
“Being able to document where they spend their time online, which social channels they use most, and what they’re reading or watching on those channels is a huge plus. Finding that crucial information is fairly easy to do, thanks to modern-day marketing tools and resources,” advises Paul Herman, VP: Product and Solutions Enablement Group, at Sprinklr, a unified customer experience management platform for enterprises.
The better you understand your customers, the easier it is to reach them through a campaign optimised for their interests.
Master social listening
You could be using social media all wrong in the run up to all your holiday campaigns. Perhaps it’s time you used this platform to listen to your customers?
“Through social listening, marketers can identify major trends and product keywords in their industries,” says Herman. “For instance, knowing those keywords can help marketers identify which social platforms are more popular for a target audience. With that information, they can make smarter decisions about where to spend their money and which products or services to promote on each platform.”
Related: 10 Laws Of Social Media Marketing
Use the information gathered to determine what customers like about your product, what they dislike about it, and how you can improve upon it so they can buy more of it. The more of this data you collect, the better and more effective your interactions with customers will be.
Try something new
50% of consumers look for a video of the product they want to buy before going to an ecommerce store to buy it, according to a 2016 Google survey. “Video can be an extremely effective way to get your customers to take action – in this case, to make a purchase with your store,” adds Mason.
Video adverts are often used as an experimental tool in social marketing and switching it up on platforms such as Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Instagram Stories, or Snapchat – depending on your brand’s activity and your audiences’ interests – can help attract customers during seasonal periods.
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