By Robert Craven, MD at The Directors’ Centre

Question: If every company wants to delight its customers, then how come we don't spend most of our customer days delighted?

The reality is that customer service has reached the pits!

The biggest lie…
The biggest lie today (as put out by marketing departments) is that 'the customer is in charge'.

Another lie is that ‘customer service is better’ – but, generally, customer service is bad, everybody knows that! It's harder to deliver good customer service than ever before, and yet, customers are more demanding.

The reason that big business was, and is still, so excited about the web is the belief that it can put 'the customer is in charge'. What nonsense!

Their only reason to put the customer in charge is financial - costs for the business go down and ... perceived service goes up because customers are doing the work themselves. In a world of imperfect customer service, many customers prefer to cut to the chase and help themselves (Think IKEA!).

A brief rant
As customers we feel betrayed. It seems remarkable that an entire business philosophy, a mantra, chanted across the modern world is so obviously without substance.

Most banks, universities, shops, restaurants, builders' merchants, and software companies patently fail to deliver.

The customer is not king. The customer is left waiting to be heard (again!).

The reality is dismal.
How often does the call centre tell you, 'We are experiencing higher than usual call volumes' or 'all our customer service operatives are currently busy' or ‘you are in a queue'? These statements are almost always followed by a second (incongruous) comment, 'We value your call'.

If they value your call then why do you always have to wait? If they are experiencing higher than usual call volumes then why don't we (the customers) experience higher than average staffing levels?

So, empty promises are made and the company does nothing to put right their wrongs. They simply are not listening. That’s the truth of the matter.

Smell the coffee
Companies are starting to wake up to the fact that the customer is actually very angry with them. Customer service ratings are nonsense – after all, the average score is always 'above average'.

So what?
Clearly, most customers do not feel 'in charge'.

You can use this to your advantage - think how easy it can be to stand out from the rest if you really do put the customer in charge!

A call to action
Are you giving your customers and clients what they want in the way that they want to receive it? Are you sure? Really?

If you take nothing else from reading this article, then please think carefully about this: are you getting the feedback you actually need? (rather than the feedback you want!).

My experience is that the majority of customer feedback systems do not necessarily give you the raw, uncensored data that you actually need to improve your service. The really angry customers don’t bother to reply and the under-impressed ones often maintain a guise of politeness rather than giving you the honest feedback you actually need.

Customer engagement in practice
My tip of the day: run a survey. Ask your clients what they want from you and when and why and at what price. You will find the feedback fascinating. The following demonstrates my point:-
Last month such a survey was launched about our seminars and workshops. With over 200 replies we were able to do the following:

1. Design and market a new series of workshops reflecting the topics, venues and price points requested by the majority.
2. Write and publish a report on our findings from the survey.
3. Write and publish a Boardroom Briefing strategy document connecting the new survey with earlier surveys about training needs of entrepreneurs.
4. Write and publish three further articles and blogs about the process.
5. Create early engagement and awareness of the new initiative with potential attendees.
6. Create a list of ‘fans’ and ‘ambassadors’ who are happy to take calls from us about how we can help them.
7. Create goodwill and the opportunity to further publicise our activity by offering discounts and free prizes (tickets and books) to those that completed the survey.

And the cost?
• One online survey: free
• Time to analyse results and write articles.

Could you do something like this in your business?