Serving up the advantage

WA Business News is running a six-part series to help businesses improve the service they offer. In the first instalment, Noel Dyson reports on the benefits of good customer service.

CUSTOMER service ranks as one of the few ways businesses can create a sustainable competitive advantage.

While larger competitors can compete on things such as price and marketing spend, smaller businesses attempt to offer a more personal service to their customers.

One of the main tenets of business is to “have your customers buy more from you more often”.

Marketing Centre managing director Michael Smith said customer service was crucial to all sized organisations, particularly since most organisations had parity in terms of the products they offered.

“Interestingly, research shows high quality service as part of an organisation’s brand provides a more sustainable competitive ad-vantage than a manufacturing advantage,” Mr Smith said.

“Restaurateurs often think it’s the quality of their food that brings their customers back. In reality it is the quality of their service. Great service can make an ordinary meal taste wonderful, while great food will not save poor service.”

Mr Smith said businesses needed to know what their customers expected and what service their competitors were providing.

“The best thing a company can do is to exceed customers’ expectations, so the company needs to know what its customers expect,” he said.

Small Business Development Corporation managing director George Etrelezis said business owners needed to question their customers about what they wanted from the business.

He said it also was important to get information from those customers who left the store without making a purchase. Mr Etrelezis, himself a former retailer, said he would sometimes chase customers who had left his store without buying something to find out what they were unsatisfied with.

Mr Smith said once a business knew what a customer expected and what service their competitors were providing, it could start to create a plan to exceed those expectations.

“Then they have to implement that plan. Less than 10 per cent of the businesses out there have such a plan,” he said.

“The staff should be involved with the creation of the plan. In fact this can be one of the most motivating exercises a company can undertake.”

Management consultant Jillian Mercer said staff involvement in customer service was critical.

“They are the interface between your customers’ wallets and your till,” Ms Mercer said.

“Staff should be allowed to ask customers what irks them about your company’s service. That way you can change to meet their expectations before you set about exceeding them.”

p Next week: Dealing with difficult customers.

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