So the saying goes that ‘the customer is always right’. Unfortunately, our local customer service providers seemed to have missed the memo, and are leaving Australian shoppers unsatisfied with the level of service they receive.

In fact, the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer research, which surveyed 1021 Australian consumers, found that the perception of customer service standards have slipped, with 39% of respondents believing that businesses typically fail to meet their expectations. This was up from 32% last year.

Internationally, Australians place a stronger importance on customer service than most countries, ranking third behind India and Mexico. In fact, Aussie shoppers are willing to pay an average of 12% more when they receive satisfactory service.

Christine Wakefield, vice president of World Service for American Express explains: “Customer attitudes towards service are changing. As the cost of living increases, people expect a higher level of service for their hard earned money. Many companies do value service and deliver it exceptionally, so people know what’s possible and are disappointed when they find it’s the exception rather than the rule”.

“Excellent customer service is like a great wine: once you’ve experience the good stuff, it’s hard to downgrade your expectations – and many establishments do perform service exceptionally. Also, as the Australia Dollar continues to strengthen, the appeal of overseas travel has increased. This has given Australians an opportunity to taste great service from countries like the US and the bar has been raised on their expectations”.

Unfortunately, consumers feel that businesses here do not pay enough attention to giving expected levels of service and 25% even feel that local companies take their customers’ businesses for granted. 10% go as far to say that companies don’t seem to care about their business, and this figured has doubled since 2010.

Wakefield says: “It’s often easy to point fingers at frontline staff when in fact, often the failure point is businesses that don’t invest in training and developing their staff to deliver great service.  Delivering in service is an investment in the health of a business.  Of course there are people who aren’t cut out for customer facing roles, so it’s imperative that businesses use the appropriate hiring techniques and attract talent with a passion to serve”.

Brett Whitford, executive director of the Customer Service Institute of Australia says: “Training and developing frontline staff to deliver great service should be viewed as an investment in the long-term health of a business”.

“Generally, delivering great service comes down to the small touches and showing interest in customers, asking how they are, recognising their customer and rewarding loyalty”.

“It’s simple,” explains Wakefield. “Providing great service can lead to business growth. Consumers say they gravitate to companies that are investing in the customer experience and going beyond the basic transaction to recognise loyalty and ensure their customers get the most value for their money”.

“Staff are the face of a brand so turning them into advocates is extremely important.  It’s your staff who will reflect the impressions you will leave on your customers.  An enthusiastic, motivated and well trained employee will only support and reinforce the brand image a business is trying to project in the marketplace”.

Whitford advises that internal branding should be an activity that companies invest in: “Internal branding ensures the consistency of customer service message through an organisation’s internal branding.  It is just not a tool to drive culture but it’s vital that the customer focused culture is developed and reinforced through internal branding.  For example, it is vital when a customer asks for something out of the ordinary and staff don’t have clear procedures or processes to deal with such a request, a strong culture developed by good internal branding allows them to make the right decision in line with the organisation’s values”.

Aside from offering an attractive pay package, Whitford believes that good customer service begins right from the hiring process. “Ultimately a salary is just one form of reward and recognition for customer service staff.  The process begins with hiring good staff with the right attitude, then training them not just for competency skills to enable them to perform their role with good technical skills but also providing them with advanced customer service skills such as the ability to understand and read customer emotions; how to deal with difficult or angry customers; and effective service recovery techniques”.

5 key tips that American Express advise to local businesses:

  1. Know your customer – Good service comes down to forming relationships with customers.  For regular customers, get to know their likes, dislikes and purchasing behaviour so that you can enhance their experience with your business.  For top customers look at how you can give extra special treatment.
  2. Make it easy for customers to do business with you– Listen to your customers and use their feedback to improve your product and service.
  3. Solve your customer’s problems and strive to go above and beyond – A customer should never walk away feeling as though something has been left unresolved.  Go out of your way to address the situation.
  4. Look for opportunities to makean impression – Understand and act on the notion that every customer interaction is an opportunity to create a connection and to drive customer loyalty and engagement.
  5. Invest in your frontline staff – Staff are the face of any business so ensure that your employees reflect the impression you want to leave on your customers.  Remember a happy, motivated and well trained staff member is more likely to project their enthusiasm on customers than one who isn’t.
Belle Kwan
BY Belle Kwan ON 29 July 2011
Assistant editor, Marketing magazine & marketingmag.com.au
A marketer's dream who believes everything she sees on TV.
Advertising is not evil, it is an artform and a science.