When it comes to looking after our customers, quite often there’s a gap, a huge gap between theory and practice. There are books about customer relations; there are videos about customer relations; there are Gurus (mostly self-appointed) about customer relations. None of them actually have to deliver customer relations. That chore is left to what was known in the last two World Wars as the PBI – as in “Poor B….y Infantry”- the foot soldiers. The front-line people, your front-line people.
So what do they make of it all?
You know about Pareto’s Law – I discuss it often enough – yes that one, the one that says 80% of the business comes from 20% of the customers? Well, it (almost) applies in this case. More than 80% of front line staff hasn’t yet totally bought into the idea of effective customer relations. The other 20% have discovered a very enriching way of achieving a satisfactory outcome from interactions with customers. In other words, most of the time they succeed! And when they succeed, the customers actually thank them!
This can’t be about you – can it?
So what’s the problem?
The first answer is: ‘the Directors” the next answer is “the Managers.”
“Nonsense” you say. “I’m one of those, and I have explained very earnestly why we must all focus on achieving first class relations with customers.”
Mmmmm! Creating business and profit enhancing relations with customers requires the right environment, ethos, culture and philosophy. You can’t achieve it by simply telling other people to do it. You can tell them the technique for turning “difficult” phone calls around, but if they don’t feel like doing it, then they won’t.
If you and your whole organisation don’t believe in developing good relations with all of your customers – it won’t happen.
When so much time and money is spent on training people about the need for constructive relations with customers, why is it often so bad? For much the same reason that when so much money has been spent on telling people that smoking kills you, they still insist on smoking.
The issue is the environment. There used to be spittoons in bars. What is a spittoon? It’s a bowl or bucket into which people spit. Oh yes, people used to spit into spittoons. They spat because they chewed tobacco; they spat because they had – please forgive the term – phlegm. For whatever reason, they spat. And so there were spittoons. So long as the environment accepted people spitting, there were spittoons. Once that environment changed, the very idea was repulsive.
Which gets us back to relations with customers. So long as the environment in your organization is tolerant of taking a patronizing, competing or negative attitude to customers, some people will do just that.
What does that mean?
Jargon obscures. There are various terms used such as Customer Relations; Customer Care; Customer Service; Customer Support – and a few more besides.
‘Customer Relations’ refers to the principles and practice used by everyone across the board in a company in developing and maintaining a certain quality of relationship with customers and prospective customers.
‘Customer Care’ refers to the techniques and attitudes necessary to deliver a high quality of service to customers.
‘Customer Service’ / Support / Helpline refers specifically to a department set up to field enquiries and complaints from customers, so that operational departments need not spend time dealing with them. The term ‘Customer Relations’ may also be used for this function.
‘Technical Support’ performs a similar function for technical reasons.
In discussing customer relations, we are not just discussing the work of a Customer Service Department. We need to look at the whole company wide approach to customer relations.