Customer Service Delivery: My Ultimate Pet Peeve

Being a standards person for almost 10 years, one of my biggest pet peeves is poor service delivery. You don’t need to look hard to find more than one hundred ways to deliver poor service yet simply by putting in place appropriate systems, most consequential practices can be done away with.

Customer service is defined as “the act of taking care of customer needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, high quality service and assisting before, during and after the customer’s requirements are met.” Today, it is one of the greatest challenges confronting ordinary citizens on a daily basis and the reason for many failed businesses.

Today, there is a fine line between investment in the company brand and guaranteeing customer satisfaction. Similarly balancing needs of the customer and that of the shareholder is a decision that must be made by those charged with customer service. Businesses today often fall in the trap of taking the easy route, for instance, there is always a battle between taking the short term view (immediate gratification through profit making) instead of taking a long term view (transgenerational) to the business. Moreover, firms prefer being inward looking at the expense of looking more at the external stakeholder requirements who are impacted by the business.  Living up to the promise has become a thing of the past. “Customer is King” has been replaced by “Profit is King” and firms even justify this by reminding workers that the business is not a charity.  Make profits at all costs!

Before introduction in Zimbabwe of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016. Control of Goods (Open General License) and the restriction of certain goods, competition was mainly in terms of distribution of traded goods. Today, the Standards of Customer Service have become the game changer, forcing a number of players to pay more attention to their customer needs. Those who willfully refused to heed the call, have been forced into oblivion.

While some excuses for poor customer service are excusable, most are quite unbelievable or even an annoyance. Some classical excuses for poor service delivery especially in the retail, hospitality, commercial, travel, construction, real estate, financial services sectors are as old as time. Examples of poor service ranges from, demotivated and disengaged workers, delivering services late or not at all “because the traffic was terrible”, lack of capacity, old technology, an entire company going off for lunch leaving customers unattended, phones not being answered, bureaucratic processes which result in long lines and frustrated clients, non-functional elevators making businesses inaccessible, poor responsiveness to customer complaints, incomplete, slow and confusing communication messages and lack of due care for stakeholder expectations. In short, these examples show that some businesses are taking customers for granted.

Remarkably, while some service providers find ways to add additional hidden charges to their shoddy service, the customer continues to feel cheated and exploited. It does not matter whether it is within the public or private sector, some businesses try to profiteer by unjustifiably raising prices, double dipping and taking advantage of customer ignorance in terms of negotiating contracts. In the case of some airlines, some customers have fallen prey to unscrupulous agents who benefit from overbooking and some have even tried to squeeze customer’s pockets by making it difficult for them to earn frequent flier miles. Some insurance and health institutions fail to honour legitimate claims while some hotels get away with general poor service delivery. It is even shocking to note that some restaurants would try to serve their customers meals that are not as fresh as they should be to save money. Microfinance businesses have become notorious for charging extortionate rates with no matching service. All these examples show the extent to which poor service has become the order of the day. The situation is even worse if the service provider is a monopoly because the customer has no choice and is at the mercy of the service provider.  Some culprits of poor service delivery are retailers which have perfected the art of appearing to be good stewards in their communities yet they are driven solely by a profit motive.

While these practices are completely unacceptable, some businesses have become so accustomed to blaming external forces for their actions to the extent that, it has almost become a culture to deliver shoddy service. This lack of concern for the customer is not only damaging to the brand but also to customer loyalty and confidence. Fortunately, some customers know, exercise and demand their rights at every opportunity while the majority of customers would prefer to vote with their feet. If unchallenged, it won’t be long before the company realizes that, it has lost its market share.

One cannot underestimate impact of poor service, unethical practices and corruption on a brand. Good customer service is indeed a deliberate internal effort by individuals and companies to delight their customers and to ensure that these practices do not compromise the brand value. In a world of stiff competition, it surprising that, while company profits are being squeezed due to shrinking markets, there is no corresponding investment in delivering exceptional service. Companies globally spend more time crafting expensive and complicated strategic plans, yet very few firms are dedicated to measuring execution of that same strategy, a means to an end. This observation is evident by the growth of the number of institutions of higher learning which teach strategic management programs at master’s level, yet little investment is made in training executives on how to deliver exceptional service. This critical element of delighting the customers is left to the whims of the individual to figure it out on their own. This probably explains the increasing number of business coaches who have identified a niche and are focusing more on behavioral change of executives to help them deliver excellence to customers.  Special focus in this area can result in significant changes in the fortunes of the business.

Failure to invest in training people in the organisation, limited attention to managing a business in quality way, putting customers last are all symptoms of companies which are short sighted. International standards and benchmarks provide useful guidelines for quality, environmental, safety, risk and health which benefit to companies, their workers and customers. Standards not only build confidence globally in terms of customer service but also it is the most commonly language understood by markets in protecting consumers from substandard goods.

Conclusion

When all is said and done, customers realise that, to some extent they may be paying more for less. They too have a role to play to protect themselves by being more vigilant. There is a business case in recalibrating minimum benchmarks so as to realign them to customer expectation. Businesses have to realise that, customers have choices. It’s only a matter of time that customers will not allow themselves to be squeezed of every dime to show their allegiance to their service providers. It’s time the culture of servant leadership be driven from the top to promote good customer service. For businesses to survive in 2017, be it a large enterprise or a small family business, the tone at the top must change.

While it is true that, there are many reasons which have led to the existence of firms, e.g. to create a large investment of capital, to improve economies of scale, to develop superior entrepreneurs, to enter into the industry, to create jobs, to provide a solution to a problem, at the end of the day, all these reasons cannot happen without customers. Service deliver and putting the customer first, should be every business’ reason for the existence of the entity.

This starts with accepting that unless we have good systems to improve service it will continue to be common pet peeve not only for me but for many others.

Happy New Year!

This article is written by Dr Eve Gadzikwa, ARSO President, SAZ Director General.

Gadzikwa is a certified Coach Practitioner (CCF Canada) and Author of “I Dare You to Lead.” She can be contacted on egadzikwa@saz.org.zw