Providing Good Customer Service Doesn't Have to Cost the Earth

Making changes to the way that you deliver customer service to improve the customer experience doesn't have to cost the earth. This post looks at an example from our customer service skills training course that shows you can make small changes that have a big impact.
Providing Good Customer Service Doesn't Have to Cost the Earth
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Turning Around Customer Perceptions

At its annual meeting in 2013, budget airline Ryanair announced that it will be reforming its 'abrupt culture'. The decision was taken after a number of key stakeholders expressed concerns about how poor customer service was hitting sales.

It's fair to say that any company or organisation that doesn't put its customer at the centre of everything that it does will begin to see an impact, regardless of how low their prices are.

This is an example that we use in our customer service skills training courses.

Changing Simple Things in Customer Service to Make a Big Difference

Michael O'Leary, the Chief Executive of Ryanair said "we should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily p**s people off". Complaints to Ryanair range from high fines if you forget your boarding pass at the airport to excessive charges if your bag is just a few millimetres too big.

OK, so they are the 'big' things, but a quick search of Ryanair reviews in Google throws up some other interesting thoughts:

"The service is abrupt and very unfriendly", "no hospitality from staff", "I don't think we got acknowledged from the staff at all apart from if we wanted to purchase anything". Although these are just a few select comments, there are many other negative comments and also some good ones.

It may seem like we're picking on Ryanair here, we're not. Many organisations have the same approach and similar comments online. What strikes us about all of these companies is there is no consistency in the service being delivered. But, it is about customer service? Is customer service just the things that you do to provide the right things to a customer i.e. the right product, on time, good communication etc? Is there another dimension?

Thinking About the Customer Experience

A buzzword that is currently doing the rounds is 'Customer Experience'. We like this statement as this is what really differentiates one business from another. It's not just about what we do for the customer, it's about how we make the customer feel. What kind of experience does the customer have?

Having a snazzy website, sending regular emails to customers to keep them updated and not charging £70 for a forgotten boarding pass may improve the' service' offered to customers, but does it improve the experience?

O'Leary said at the annual meeting "A lot of those customer services elements don't cost a lot of money ... It's something we are committed to addressing over the coming year,"

He's right! But, as we said above, it's not just the big things that need changing, the small things from a 'customer experience' point of view make the difference in any business. For example:

  • General courtesy. Saying hello, goodbye, please and thank you. Not just basic manners, but also acknowledges that the customer actually exists
  • Wearing a smile and showing that you are proud to be serving the customer.
  • Building rapport. Asking someone 'how has your day been?' instead of diving straight in with 'can I help you?' makes a huge difference to the customer. You want to know about them.
  • Showing customers that you can do something, no matter how small, rather than the things you can't.
  • Explaining reasons for issues.  Telling the truth and not dressing up the truth to make it sound better.

The list above is just a small example of the simple things we can all do to improve service.

Change the Small Things Before the Big Things

When we work with organisations that want to stand out from the crowd from a service point of view. Yes, we work on the big things. We help them to develop standards to measure the service against and ensure consistency but those standards always start with the same basic principles and they are to ensure the basics are right first before you do anything bigger.

We think Michael O'Leary deserves a lot of credit here for admitting that things need to change. Another publicity stunt or a real promise? Only time will tell.

Reflecting on the Past and Looking to the Future

A year on since that announcement and I had the chance to fly with Ryanair having re-located around that time making my local airport Stansted, one of Ryanair's main bases.

After one flight with Ryanair around 5 years previous where I vowed never to step foot on one of their planes again (and pretty much kept that promise), I had no other choice than to use the airline recently for a work commitment.

There is only one word at the time that I could think of that described the experience - WOW! And that's wow in a positive way.

What a change. what a turnaround.

Now, I know that from reading some articles that there are still people having a bad experience, I've only got one experience to compare this trip against. But, there were a number of little things that impressed me:

  • There was a member of the crew on the stand next to the plane greeting people as they walked past
  • The crew member checked my boarding pass when I boarded, as they always do, but took my name from it and personally welcomed me aboard - nice touch
  • Whilst waiting for everyone to lift their bags into the overhead lockers while standing and talking in the aisle for a while, I was still just next to the door, the crew member asked me how my trip was. When I said it was for work, they continued to ask me about it
  • They also remembered this conversation 2 hours later when I deplaned. A quick 'thank you and I hope you get to see more of the city on your next trip'
  • Everyone seemed pleasant. Smiling, saying please and thank you. Really warm and friendly

Delivering a Consistently High Level of Customer Service

Since that experience, I've flown many more times and found this to be fairly consistent across all of my journeys. OK, I did see a little abrupt behaviour when pretty much half of the plane still thought it was fight for any seat and not realising Ryanair now does allocate seating. I think even the most zen-like character might have got a little frustrated. I was frustrated just listening to it.

Just goes to show. Yes, you can make some big sweeping changes such as bringing in allocated seating. But, it's the small things that make the biggest difference when it comes to good customer service and experience. The stuff that costs nothing.

The Case for Good Customer Service

Why should any organisation deliver great customer service and why should they change? One thing that can switch many of us off from buying from a company is if we don’t get the service we expect.  That is probably the big thing that keeps us, and our customers coming back for more.

It’s not just the high street that this affects.  It’s not just stores or airlines.  Restaurants, call centres and even online chat are places where service is delivered, and it’s through this service that customers will make the choice whether to come back to you again.

This is highly important when you are competing with others.  Sometimes the service that customers receive is the differentiator between them buying from you or from somewhere else in future.  It’s the difference between them telling 4 people about the good service they received or up to 20 people about the bad service they received.

Maybe you are saying ‘I already deliver excellent customer service’.  That’s great, but how do you measure it?

There are many things that you can do to check that you are delivering the right service to customers such as defining a set of customer service standards, carrying out customer surveys and even check out what your competitors are doing.  You can also develop the skills of your team through customer service skills training.

Remember, just because things are quiet, just because big names are disappearing off the high street, people still need things and in many cases want things.  People will still spend money.  It’s up to you to help them to decide to spend it with you and not your competitors.

Customer Service Training Course

If you are looking to improve the level of customer service delivered by your organisation, take a look at our customer service skills training course where we cover how to achieve a greater level of customer service and experience by changing the small things.

David Lumley23-09-2013

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