By Claire Richardson, Vice President of Workforce Optimisation Solutions, EMEA

All too often, customer service is an afterthought and seen as secondary to the product or service that an organisation is selling. But what many businesses don’t realise is that this strategy can actually deter customers. Our research showed that 45% of UK customers value good service over the price of products or services. With less than a quarter (19%) responding to traditional marketing messages, often good customer service is one of the best ways to increase loyalty. Businesses getting ahead of the game in 2013 are already taking action and adopting much more of a customer-centric approach by making significant changes to their strategies and operations.

Going the extra mile

One example is Metro Bank, which opened its first branch in 2010.The heart of its business strategy is providing excellent customer service and making banking more convenient for the customer — a stark contrast to many of its competitors. Rather than thinking about how to improve individual products and services, Metro Bank considers the whole process, from start to finish, from the perception of the customer. From making the branch more accessible by opening outside of traditional working hours, to in-store services providing cards to new customers the moment they sign up, the entire bank is designed around the needs of the customer. Some might question if this approach is profitable, but the evidence is in Metro Bank’s expansion. It currently has 16 branches across London and the South East but plans to have over 200 stores by 2020 — a testament to its rapid success.

Thinking outside the customer service box

It may not be viable for many organisations to significantly change their business focus as extensively as Metro Bank has done. However, it does demonstrate the success that can be achieved through a new way of thinking from the customers’ point of view. There are many other ways organisations can take more ownership of their customers’ experiences. Sometimes even the smallest details can make a significant impact. Paying more attention to your customer interactions and listening to their voice across different channels is the best way to identify these opportunities, as you can easily find out their likes and dislikes and tailor services accordingly. This can be done by closely monitoring interactions between agents and customers, including emails, phone calls, customer feedback surveys and even social media to see what people are saying. The business then needs to interpret this data to make any relevant changes.

Improving customer service needn’t be overly complex. Simple experiences are sometimes the best ones. Here’s what a friend told me about one of his recent travel experiences. He had a very tight connection time with an international airline. Since he was inflight, he couldn’t print his boarding pass in advance for the next departure. He rushed to the counter and was pleasantly greeted by the ground agent soon discovering they had anticipated his arrival and already had his boarding card printed. He then dashed my way to immigration, but approaching the officer, he realised that he forgot to fill out the departure form. He opened up hispassport and there it was–the departure form, beautifully filled out with all his details including his passport number. All he needed to do was sign it. It is this kind of service which goes the extra mile to make life easier for the customer that will get noticed and enhance customer loyalty. When given the choice he will always fly with them and as you can tell he frequently recommends them to colleagues, friends and family — something particularly important for brands. This story highlights how word of mouth is a very powerful tool.

Maximising on the power of social media

This tendency to share recommendations and experiences has now spread into the online world. Our research shows as many as 32% of consumers disclose both positive and negative experiences through their Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, blog posts and even YouTube. This type of sharing, due to its social nature, can be a difficult reign to keep hold of. Brands can have their reputation tarnished in a matter of hours if a story breaks and disgruntled customers resort to making complaints online. It is therefore vital that all social media channels are closely monitored and if any issues arise, dealt with instantaneously. At the same time, businesses should also be using these outlets to directly engage with customers and build relationships for the future. Adding this personal touch will make them feel valued.

Treating the customer as king

Taking ownership of the customer experience can be achieved in many ways from small gestures to strategic business shifts. Learning what your customers say about you and responding to their needs is critical, while working hard to surprise and delight customers with unique services will increase loyalty. Organisations that master this have a significant advantage in the era of the ‘social customer’ where experiences are shared by millions and can make or break a brand. As businesses start making plans for the future, they should all think about how they can make each and every experience memorable for its customers.