I have spent the vast majority of my career working in the field of consumer protection and trading standards. As a result I have dealt with literally thousands of consumer complaints relating to poor customer service.
Marketing is about developing a customer-focused organisation. Therefore developing strong customer service capabilities is crucial to commercial success.
Customer service is critical to the development of successful strategic marketing processes. The development of strong customer service policies and procedures are critical to the development of a strong brand image.
We live in a world where the core of a product offering is becoming increasingly commoditised. If you are seeking to add value to your core products and you wish to differentiate your products from those of your competitors, product halo elements such as the development of differentiated and strong service elements is a prominent option.
Previously in this blog I have discussed the work of Treacy and Wiersema. In particular, the three potential strategies for excellence, Product focus, Managerial Excellence and Customer Intimacy. Managerial excellence is an inward looking strategy and developing excellence in product focus can be expensive and risky. Therefore for many firms, particularly SMEs, the development of customer intimacy through the development of excellent customer service provision is critical to success and growth. Developing excellence in customer service is critical to the creation of customer intimacy.
In his book, Marketing Plans, Professor Malcolm Macdonald describes the service profits chain; how the development of strong customer service strategies can be central to the growth of a firm’s profitability:
- Employee Satisfaction: Satisfied employees provide better service quality. If you have satisfied employees, you have less staff turnover. This means your staff are better trained and more knowledgeable about your products and services. Satisfied employees are more productive. Satisfied employees have a greater commitment to the company and they present themselves better.
- Improved Service Quality: Satisfied employees provide better quality service which leads to greater customer loyalty.
- Service Quality: If you have satisfied employees you have better service quality. Customers exhibit greater satisfaction with your brand. They buy more. They buy more often. They are retained for longer. The exhibit greater loyalty.
- Customer Retention: Increased customer loyalty leads to greater customer retention. This creates an opportunity to increase profitability. Loyal customers are less likely to switch to your competitors simply because of a change in price. They are willing to spend more as they have familiarity with your products and processes. Loyal customers cost less to serve. They can offer opportunities to lower marketing costs through lower promotional budgets than those required to gain new customers. The longer a customer stays with your firm, the greater their lifetime value. Customer retention also creates greater shareholder value through improved revenues and reduction in risk.
- Positive Feedback Loop: Satisfied customers treat staff better. They develop a positive relationship with your employees and with your brand. There is a positive correlation between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.
I see a parallel between the positive feedback loop of the service profit chain and the feedback loop of the balanced scorecard developed by Kaplan and Norton. The theory of the balanced scorecard is that improved organisational learning leads to better internal processes; better internal processes leads to better customer service; better customer service leads to improved financial performance and in turn, better financial performance means that you can invest more in improving your organisational learning and development.
Macdonald outlines five dimensions of service quality:
- Tangibility: This is closely linked to the physical evidence elements of your marketing mix. Good service quality is linked to the physical equipment used by customers and to the appearance of your staff.
- Reliability: Quality service provision must be performed dependably and accurately. It must be accurately repeated.
- Responsiveness: You must show willingness to help your customers and you must serve their service needs promptly.
- Assurance: Your staff must be knowledgeable and courteous. They must have the ability to inspire confidence amongst your customers.
- Empathy: Your employees must care about customers concerns and offer them individual attention. They must show that customers concerns are important to them.
These five dimensions of service quality are critical if you are following the principles of SERVQUAL.
Today, it is often said that consumers, in particular the incorrectly defined market segment ‘millennials’, buy experiences not goods or services. Consumers now want products which are engaging, robust, compelling and memorable. Customer experience goes beyond the development of service. To develop quality experiences, you need to go beyond exceptional service quality. You need to recognise:
- Usage Processes: This is how customers access and use your goods and services. Usage processes influence how your customers think about your firm. Their concept of product value develops through their use of your goods and services not at the factory gate.
- Peer to Peer Interactions: The interactions between your customers are important. They are an important part of developing robust experiences.
- Relationships: Too many satisfaction/service quality services erroneously focus on individual customer transactions and encounters. they do not examine longer term relationships over time and across multiple transactions.
- Brand Image/Communication: People don’t own an iPhone or a BMW because of their functionality. They own them because those products make a statement about the owner.
- Emotions: Customers are not entirely rational. Emotions have a big effect on their relationship with a firm and their rating of the experience you offer.
When developing a marketing plan, you need to be cognisant of customer service needs and concerns in each of the above areas.