By Claudia Hathway, Editorial Director at Callcentre.co.uk

Investing time and whatever budget you have left in retaining customers will pay huge dividends in the long run, writes Claudia Hathway, Editorial Director of callcentre.co.uk.

Your customers can offer insights into a variety of ways you could cut costs. Try asking your frontline staff how they would do things differently – you’ll be amazed at the inefficiencies they have identified simply by interacting with customers every day.

While it’s an honour to be invited to be a judge this year, it is odd that there should be a National Business Award for a focus on customers in some ways. After all, without customers, there would be no business - so having a focus on them is surely vital for any successful company.

Unfortunately, many businesses concentrate solely on efficiently running the business and making sales, rather than helping customers fulfil a need or desire (which is why it was created in the first place). Customer service is too often perceived as a 'nice to have', rather than a long-term strategy to increase customer loyalty and profits, so it's fantastic that such a prestigious awards programme is putting customer service firmly back on the board agenda.

My top five tips for any type of organisation to consider when designing a customer service strategy are as follows:

1. Make it easier: There is mounting evidence that customer loyalty is based not on how special a customer is made to feel, but on how easy it is for them to interact with your business. This is hardly surprising given how time-poor people are in the modern world, but many businesses still put barriers in the way, such as complicated menu systems or transferring customers around, only for them to have to repeat their query. Keep it simple, or risk losing customers to companies that are less hassle to deal with.

2. Join up your processes: Believe it or not, customers don’t contact you for fun. Many businesses are now realising that customer service queries provide valuable business insight. Instead of just solving it and forgetting it, the nature of the issue can be used to make changes to business processes.

3. Personalise it: At the end of the day, customers just want to be treated like human beings. This can be difficult when you are dealing with thousands of them day after day, but a bit of politeness goes a long way. And if it’s a complicated query or complaint, it’s vital to let customers know that you care about getting it fixed. Take a bit of ownership and be proactive about it and that customer will be loyal for life.

4. Be consistent: There are dozens of ways customers come into contact with your company – whether it’s face-to-face, through social media, on the phone, or on the Internet. It’s tricky to pull off, but if you can give them a consistent experience each time, no matter what the interface, you will give the impression of being reliable. This instils confidence in your brand, making it more likely people will want to do business with you.

5. Try interacting with your own company: Remember, you are a customer. You wouldn’t be happy with poor service, so why allow it to go on in your business? Try calling or emailing your own firm – it can be an eye-opening experience.

Expansion into new territories, in the UK or overseas, is a key element of the growth criteria for this year’s National Business Awards in partnership with Orange. If you have expanded your customer base in the last year, and achieved growth in new markets, tell your story by entering the National Business Awards. Enter online at www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk or call the entry team for guidance on 020 7234 8755. Also, if you need information and advice on establishing operations overseas, visit www.ukti.gov.uk.

Watch the video below featuring Michael Crampsey, CRM Product Specialist at Sage, discussing how to use CRM effectively and building customer relationships


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