Customer Service and Why We MUST Get More Find Grained In Our Discussions To Improve It - Five Guidelines
It's great that there is so much discussion about how businesses can improve their customer service, but most studies show that the perceptions of customers is that customer service is getting worse.
If we want to work to improve customer service, though, we need to become more fine grained in both our discussions and our understanding of both customer behavior and the differences between various types of businesses.
Customers Differ In Their Expectations Regarding Customer Service
We often talk about "customers" as being monolithic and sharing the same expectations and perceptions but that's simply not accurate.
For example, the customer who stays at a five star hotel has very different expectations about service and the customer experience than does the person who stays at a Motel 6. Yet, when we talk about "customers" we never make the distinction.
Customers also differ on what constitutes good customer service, depending on location. Culture is a huge factor because it alters perceptions. The New York customer has very different perceptions and expectations compared to the customer in Bismarck, North Dakota. The American southern customer is different from the person in the State of Washington.
Or even customers in one part of New York might differ from those in the inner city.
Yet we talk about "customers" as if they are all alike, and this simply doesn't work when it comes to making actual decisions within companies.
Businesses Vary Sector To Sector, Niche To Niche
Not only are there huge differences among different groups of customers, but different niches require different approaches to customer experience and service.
If you run an auto mechanic shop, you need to do things differently than if you run that five star hotel, because the needs of customers are different. Once again, we can't advise "businesses" on what to do to improve customer service and the customer experience without becoming more fine grained.
Advice to the auto mechanic repair shop must be different from that for the hotel industry, and yet again must differ from that which we would supply to a convenience store, or to a department store such as Walmart.
Some Guidelines For Thinking About and Discussing Service and Experience
- We need to be on guard lest we mistake our OWN experiences as customers as being representative of what other customers want and need. It's easy to do this, because OUR experiences seem more real, but often they simply don't apply to the broader universe of customers. This is particularly the case for those of us in the customer service industry.
- We need to become more specific in our discussions, and stop talking about "customers" as if they are ONE homogenous group. They aren't.
- We need to make decisions, not based on general advice, but based on a firm, data driven understanding of the customers who patronize the specific establishment, and niche.
- We need to look at research and data gathered by third party companies differently. Research focusing on one sector (i.e. telecoms, hotels, retailers) will, more often than not, NOT apply outside of the sector, or to different "levels" of customers, even within a niche.
- Finally, businesses need to stop being hooked into the "general hype" about customer service and experience, and make decisions based on their own strengths, weaknesses, niche expectations, competition, and a host of other factors that will make the difference. Since providing effective customer service and experience is a business TOOL, it the levels of service must be determined by business realities, and not what the "general hype" says.
We CAN improve service, and we CAN do so to benefit businesses, but we CANNOT do so by being over-general.