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.”
How Your Fast Food Franchise Can Attract Quality-Conscious Consumers
In a world where customers are becoming increasingly picky about where they dine and what they pick from a menu, it can be challenging to meet demands.
“Major foodborne illness incidents and outbreaks seem to be increasing. Even innocent or careless mistakes can sicken guests and ruin a restaurant’s reputation,” says Francine Shaw, President of Food Safety Training Solutions Inc. “Foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable and could be avoided if food service organisations adopted a food safety culture.”
Following a listeriosis scare in South Africa early in 2018, consumers have become more conscious about the foods they eat. Today’s customer is more concerned about the cleanliness of the food they buy over its taste.
“How food is sourced, prepared and served is uppermost with many diners demanding transparency when it comes to where they spend their hard-earned money.” – Franchise Association of South Africa (FASA)
The addition of more nutritious choices to your menu may be attracting health-conscious consumers, but it’s the quality of the regular – and perhaps popular – menu items that may win over consumers concerned with quality and not just calorie content.
Here’s how you can ensure your customers are at ease with having their next meal at any of your franchises nationwide:
1. Ensure everyone knows why and how it’s done
Even with buy-in from the top-tier, your food safety efforts will be futile if not incorporated into every training touch point and may appear to be optional, when they should be a priority, says Chris Boyles, vice president for The Steritech Institute. When you have well-trained workers who understand the ‘why’ behind food-quality policies, momentum is built and a culture of food safety is created.
“Through encouraging genuine, comprehensive behavioural shifts, your franchise will protect the brand, safeguard employees and sustain a reduction in risk,” Boyles adds.
2. Build food-quality impetus across the network
As a company that serves food to the public you’re in a position of great responsibility. It’s important to pass this message down to your franchisees too. “Co-operation between the franchisee and their employees in this regard cannot be stressed enough,” says Marcel Strauss, Managing Executive of The Fish & Chip Co. – which was voted the top fish brand in 2012.
To get your franchisees on board with tightened food safety regulations, ensure they’re aware of the looming food-quality changes you’re planning on implementing and the ROI for your brand. This enables them to make budgetary allowance for certain credentials and technology you may require to meet certain standards of food safety.
3. Tell your customers every chance you get
Give consumers a glimpse into your production process by including your quality mission statement on customer-facing materials such as your website, social media pages, profiles on external review sites and menus. “Use stories, images and videos to show your practices in action,” Katy Jones, Chief Marketing Officer at FoodLogiQ explains. “Take customers behind the scenes into internal discussions. Practice is the way you demonstrate your commitment.”
To incorporate quality and safety messaging into customer relations, you need collaboration between your food safety managers and marketing managers.
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.
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