05 March 2007

Like it or not the revolution is here

I am a strong believer that we are standing on the precipice of a new age that I like to think of as “The Customer Service Revolution”. It is time where technology is influencing our lives more than at any other period in history, and in all likelihood, these changes have only just begun. The technological advances experienced in the last twenty years are nothing compared to those that will occur in the next twenty years.

Customers literally have a world of choice. I buy products from the other side of the globe on a regular basis and so do millions of other people. I do work for clients thousands of miles away simply with the click of button. Things happen fast and people expect fast service. Small businesses can look like large corporations with some smart promotional material and a good website – hence we can compete on many different levels and on many different fronts.
As business owners and operators we all have access to new and developing markets and new sources of customers. Populations are growing, business opportunities are also growing and in reality, it doesn’t take a lot to start your own business. Pay a few fees and register a name and bingo – your a business owner and operator. This means that we are all facing increased competition and I believe that the competition we face today is nothing compared to the competition we will face tomorrow.

There is battle going on for most businesses trying to attract more customers. Market share is a term that has enormous significance, especially for companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi (not to even mention internet based companies) but it is equally important for small businesses. Prices are comparable and becoming closer and closer. Competition has ensured that suppliers have to be highly competitive in their pricing otherwise they will go out of business.

So if there a lots of businesses offering the same products at basically the same prices in the same area what is left to give one the advantage over the others? The answer is of course customer service Those businesses that are smart and sharp enough to make this realisation that the future of their business success lies with increasing levels of customers service, will prosper in coming decades. The revolution has started and I see signs of it everyday, in advertising and in the range of customer services being offered by larger organisations.

Consumer backlash to mechanised telephone systems, standing in long queues in banks and other institutions is allowing room for smarter operators to come in and develop their own market share simply by offering better levels of service at the same price. The larger organisations that have forced us to queue in long lines or wait on hold had the right idea – the are trying to get their customers to use the internet or ATM machines, which in reality are much faster and definitely more convenient, but rather than selling the advantages they made it unbearable for us to the do business with them in conventional ways. So we learnt to bank online because we got sick of waiting a line for an hour every other day. We book our fights on the internet because it quicker than being put on hold by the airline for 40 minutes.

The customer of today is time short and demanding. They know that they have choices and they are prepared to take their business elsewhere if the service is sub standard or prices are not competitive.

I believe that more customers are lost from lousy service than poor pricing. People don’t return phone calls, don’t deliver on time, they don’t thank you for your business and so on. And once you lose a customer it is very hard to get them back.

So whilst this is a testing time for many businesses there are enormous upsides. Customer service is one of the easiest areas to improve in any business. Normally it involves changing the way that you do things. If it does involve money it is normally minimal. Improving customer service can begin immediately.

So as the “Customer Service Revolution” continues, your business can either grow stronger and be a leader in your field, or it can be left behind to wallow with the majority of others.

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