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Are You Being Served?

Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned customer service? It’s a question we’ve all pondered. Now, an exclusive Reader’s Digest survey* can reveal that – despite our initial concerns – customer service is alive and thriving. One very good reason for this is the simple fact that both customers and business depend on it. Here’s what we found.

We Really Appreciate Great Customer Service
An overwhelming percentage of us are quick to react when we receive especially good customer service, with 95% of the people surveyed saying that they will spend more with the organisation or company and 94% who will spread the word to friends and family. The resounding message is that we expect high-quality customer service, we will be loyal to companies who deliver it, and we are willing to vote with our wallets. Most importantly, we also genuinely appreciate it.

Take eight-year-old Reilly Hurn’s experience. His favourite toy, a giraffe named Joshie, was left behind on a family holiday in 2012. His parents, Shannon and Chris, reported it missing to staff at the Ritz-Carlton resort where the family had stayed and told Reilly that Joshie had decided to have an extra long holiday. Not long after the family returned home, the resort called to say Joshie had been found. Soon after, Joshie arrived by courier, with a binder full of photos taken by resort staff of him relaxing by the pool, driving a golf cart, at the beach and having a massage at the spa. Reilly once again slept peacefully with his beloved giraffe. This is a great example of customer service getting it right. Says Chris Hurn of the reaction he gets when he tells people: “It warms peoples’ hearts and provides inspiration for how businesses can operate.”

Celebrating Great Customer Service
Being on the receiving end of high-quality service is very important to us – with 90% confirming it influences their shopping choices.

Fantastic treatment delivered above and beyond expectations, like that the Hurn family experienced, does still happen. Helping others can be the very reason people decide to work in the frontline service roles of business – they have good interpersonal skills and assisting others gives them a buzz.

Jenny Hughes, a customer service professional in the travel industry, thrives on going to great lengths to make her customers’ day better. “I once rang my Dutch-speaking aunt so she could give directions to a passenger who had arrived from the Netherlands,” she recalls. “The woman arrived after a long flight and there was no-one to meet her. Speaking with my aunt helped ease her anxiety – and made her feel confident.”

On another occasion the 50-year-old mother of two arranged with her supervisor to waive hefty airline fees for a family whose son had fallen sick at the airport. Imagine the family’s relief – they didn’t have travel insurance. This level of care is genuine and matters hugely to customers.

Another customer-service professional with 20 years’ experience comments: “The key to customer service is feeling the discomfort and pain of the person you’re assisting.” She says, “Their problem is your problem.”

Everyone Wins
Service that exceeds a customer’s expectations leaves everyone involved feeling content. An overwhelming majority of people – 88% of us – simply expect great service: our problem will be fixed and customer service will have the expertise and knowledge to deliver results. One woman told us about the support she received from an IT technician at a large computer company. Her computer was no longer under warranty, yet the operator spent three hours on the phone fixing a problem – and waived the fee. “I was delighted at how helpful this man was,” she says. “He saved me a lot of time, money and hassle.”

A smooth and pleasant transaction also helps secure a customer’s long-term loyalty to a business. Take one busy man who was understandably annoyed when his food mixer stopped working. The appliance had been a gift, he didn’t have a receipt and he’d only been using it for six months. When he took it back to the retailer where it had been purchased, he was given a replacement with a thank you and a smile.

Because of the ease with which this problem was solved, he’ll go back there to buy more appliances when the time comes. The store’s customer service policy had turned around a negative experience by focusing on the quickest solution available – give the customer what he wants.

And with 90% of respondents admitting their loyalty goes to the highest quality service provider, solving issues quickly is the best course to take.

Customers Fight Back with Their Wallets
So what about poor or bad customer service? Just as a positive experience will reinforce a customer’s loyalty to a business, unfortunately a negative interaction with a company will have a greater impact than a positive one.

Consumers tell an average of eight people about good experiences yet inform over twice as many people about a bad one. Our survey reveals 94% of respondents say they always tell friends and family about the negative incident, with 91% vowing never to use that company again.

“It is horrific just how bad customer service can be,” says a mother of four about supermarket service. “Prices were constantly scanned incorrectly at my old supermarket. I’d buy sale items and then when I’d get home, I’d find I’d been charged the full price.” Her response was to switch supermarkets.

Customers can feel disgruntled for a number of reasons and chief among these is the frustration at not being heard. Whether it’s an automated phone system that doesn’t catch what you’re saying or the uninterested shop assistant who ignores you while looking at their mobile phone, when it comes to being treated well as a customer it’s all about having your needs met or problem fixed. So when simple requirements aren’t fulfilled, frustration steps in, tempers fray and perfectly normal, decent people start behaving badly towards each other.

We found bad manners can go both ways. A retail manager once had a pair of trousers returned to the clothing shop where he worked, with the customer asking for a refund. When folding the garment for return to the shelves, he discovered the inside of the trousers had an unsightly stain.

Jenny Hughes will never forget the time she was left shaken after having to charge a customer for their excess baggage. She was pregnant at the time, and the customer responded by saying: “I hope your baby dies.” However, that was an exception and, with over 30 years’ experience, Hughes says that on average 99.5% of customers are pleasant people who genuinely appreciate her help.

Make an Effective Complaint
It can be tricky knowing how to get the best result when lodging a complaint. Knowing how to conduct yourself so you get the most out of the customer service interaction is all about being solution driven, says Peter Doyle, a psychologist who specialises in conflict resolution. He suggests that we focus on solutions and consequences.

1. Be in control of what you say and do.
2. Be aware if you have an elevated heartbeat, if you are frowning or have other signs of anger.
3. Aim to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose.
4. Be aware of the tone of your voice and aim for an easy, yet well-paced conversation to get the best results.

If you’re lodging your complaint over the phone, remember customer service workers are often required to follow a script, nearly all their phone calls are monitored and their supervisor can listen to anything. You may need to work through the script, or ask to speak to a manager. If you’re seeking assistance face-to-face, a smile can do wonders to disarm the customer service person. Most are people just trying to work for a fair day’s wage, with a genuine desire to help.

While there are ways to hone your behaviour to get the best service, just over two-thirds of us (69%) admit they simply shrug and say ‘that’s life’ when they receive poor service. Walking away and going to another retailer or company to spend our money is, for most of us, the easiest option. And that’s what businesses know – and fear – will happen.

How to Get Better Service, More Often

Psychologist Peter Doyle suggests trying the DESC approach, summarised here:
Describe the situation you are upset about (without blame or judgment).
Explain your feelings and your perspective. Say, ‘I feel angry/disappointed’. Explain why you feel how you do.
Solving the problem is your focus. If the relevant staff member is open to helping you find a solution, then is there anything positive you can say? If they are not happy to help you, then consider bringing up negative consequences such as speaking to their manager or seeking media coverage.
Cost-benefit analysis matters. Do the costs of complaining outweigh the benefits? You don’t need to follow up on every issue.

*Reader’s Digest commissioned independent research company Catalyst Research to survey 3000 people in Australia and New Zealand in November 2015.



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