A customer for life, for less than the price of a chicken…..

customer calls

We all have tons of experiences of good and bad customer service to share and isn’t it amazing how disinterested those business who rely on loyal customers are in developing and growing positive customer experiences: from a genuine smile to seeking customer feedback on how to improve and do things better.  Look at how poorly customers who stay with their providers for more than a year are treated, in comparison to how disloyal customers are rewarded for flitting from one provider to another (see: utilities, banking/insurance and telecoms).  I am amazed at how indifferent they are when, after years of loyal service, you suddenly leave: they are not interested in finding out why, or how they could keep you: not even a phone call to say: ‘we’ll miss your loyalty, we appreciated the custom, what can we do?’ (see O2).  Try to find the ‘customer service’ desk in a Department store, and it is invariably hidden away at the back of the shop, impossible to find, and plagued by a long queue (see: Pennys), or if you buy something in one branch, say Dublin, but you live in Cork and want to return the item, but you cannot because you ‘must return it at the store in which you bought it’ (see Dunnes Stores) and some businesses have no visible, accessible ‘customer service’ routes, so you have no idea how to complain or return or ask a question. Whatever happened to the idea that a complaint is a way for the business to learn how to do things better or differently, and should be welcomed and encouraged? And why are businesses still not wary of the silent customer who just grunts when asked if he’s happy or says: ‘fine’ or ‘grand’:  he’s probably going to go elsewhere and bring all his friends with him.

While researching customer service for training workshops, I am always drawn back to Feargal Quinn and his book Crowning the Customer’, based upon the ethos and methods used by Quinn’s supermarkets, Superquinn (now part of the Musgrave SuperValu chain) and how revolutionary those stores were in 1990s Ireland, as they were most definitely centred on the customer.  Wonderful, inspiring stories of how this worked in practice were told by Fergal Quinn, my favourite was the butcher and the chicken. The customer returns an unwanted chicken to the butcher; the butcher sees that it was not bought in Superquinn, but in putting the customer first, immediately gives the customer another chicken in replacement.  For the price of a chicken the Superquinn butcher keeps a loyal customer by giving the customer a good experience and watches while she goes off to tell all her neighbours, friends and relatives about it.  Of course the customer could have been faking it, but hey, for the price of a chicken, it was worth the risk.  The opposite is unthinkable in the customer-centred business, leading directly to a bad experience of embarrassment for the customer, and the risk that the customer would never come into the store again and worse, tell as many people as possible about how the butcher had insulted her and treated her so rudely.  When businesses spend millions on attracting new customers and keeping current ones coming back, from loyalty cards, to advertisements, to bargains, to subtle technology, it does not make any sense at all that they are willing to lose a loyal customer (and many of the people she tells about it) for the price of a chicken.

Okay, I know, businesses today are more complicated, using strategies embracing the globe, using all manner of social media and technology to research customer tastes, likes and experiences, to use them to gain and grow customer alliances.  When all is said and done, though, most of our hard-earned money goes on food, clothes, entertainment, the house, the car, things for children (see Sports shops, Smyths Toys…), presents and holidays. And, when all is said and done, what matters to us is the experience we get when we part with our hard-earned money, that we are getting value and quality; that we are appreciated for the choices we have made, and if something goes wrong, that we will be treated with respect and care.  I don’t believe that the customer is always right, no way are customers always right, however, how we are treated is what matters, and if we are treated as if we are always right, then, we respond with reason and are satisfied.

I could recount hundreds of abysmal personal customer experiences, too numerous to mention, from the ‘holding onto the line, your call matters to us’ jingle on the phone (see Bank of Ireland Visa, UPC…); to talking to non-native English speakers to whom I have to spell even the most basic of words (see Eircom); to being treated with what can only be called contempt for daring to complain, or getting upset (see Aviva); for being called in a rather subtle way, ‘stupid’ for ‘failing’ to make the service provider understand what the problem is in the first place (see ThisWebHost); to being kept waiting in a long queue while those who are ‘serving’ chat to each other, stack shelves, re-set tables, tidy up counters and deliberately avoid any eye-contact, just in case they would be ‘forced’ into communication with the customer.

I have heard businesses complaining the ‘boom’ times in Ireland were the worst time for them, because the customer was so arrogant (power went to the head), as they had more disposable income to spend and treated those who were serving them badly.  I remember during the ‘boom’ times, the contempt that service providers had for me, as a customer, when I needed a small job done and was ignored because a more lucrative job overshadowed mine (see Carpenters, Plumbers, Electricians, Builders, Painters).  I remember, is the thing – now when custom is more difficult to hone and customers are and have to be, more discerning, the complacency of the ‘boom’ is over, and I remember the good providers who looked after me no matter how small my custom was, who treated me with respect and kindness, while offering me fair and good value for my money: I am their loyal customer and recommend them without reservation to others (see Tim Keane, Michel Jewellers; contact me for my Plumber and Painter).  And oh, I love businesses that make it easy to complain and return items unwanted or faulty, such as my local SuperValu (Barry Collins) or Marks and Spencer (any branch) and I appreciate the little courtesies of my local Indian restaurant (Indian Spice): the smile and genuine welcome I receive along with the little complimentary drink at the end of the meal, which enhance my experience, just adding that little bit extra which makes me feel good.  And isn’t that what we want, to feel, good about the experience.

It’s all rather simple to be honest, for the price of a chicken!  What are your experiences of good and poor customer service, bet there are too many, too numerous to mention.

Anne Marie


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