A focus on improving customer service can take businesses to new heights
We live in an age of instant gratification. Thanks to the Internet and digital technology, the information we want is just a click or tap away. It is no wonder consumers are beginning to expect the same of customer service. Whether it is fulfilling an order or providing a service, customers are increasingly demanding a more flexible and proactive service experience from the companies they deal with. What’s more, they want it now!
Where the mass market is concerned, customers naturally expect order-taking and fulfilment to be completely accurate and timely, and enquiries to be promptly addressed. For luxury products and services, customers increasingly expect businesses to meet their unique needs – cookie-cutter solutions no longer suffice.
However, many SME owners are finding it a challenge to keep pace with these rising customer expectations. While getting it right brings many rewards – from higher customer loyalty to greater wallet share – it can be difficult to find the resources to identify capability gaps and seek solutions.
“Common issues that SMEs deal with on a day-to-day basis include rising business costs and increased competition from both international and local players,” says Ms Tong Shuh Lan, SPRING Singapore’s Director of Business and Service Excellence.
“A lack of manpower is another challenge. This issue is acute in the service industry, where manpower is a key resource in delivering customer service.”
So, how can SMEs improve their customer service, given these constraints?
Change Is Crucial For Success
Many companies have found that emphasising service training reaps rewards. “Most of the organisations I’ve dealt with in Singapore are very mindful of the fact that they must invest in training to equip their staff with the knowledge and skills to deliver exceptional service and meet evolving customer expectations,” says Ms Margaret Heng, Executive Director of the Singapore Hotel Association.
“The Workforce Skills Qualifications system, which trains and develops individuals according to national standards developed by the Workforce Development Agency, is very useful here, as it encourages continual, life-long learning through open access.”
Entering industry awards can also play an important part in encouraging SME staff to reach greater heights of service excellence. The Excellent Service Award (EXSA), for example, is a national award that recognises individuals who have delivered quality service.
“Being nominated for an EXSA award can help motivate staff to work together as a team and deliver excellent service,” says Ms Heng, who is also Chairperson of the EXSA committee.
“Not only do these awards provide recognition to those staff members who win, they also motivate others to continually up the ante in the way they deliver service.”
Redesigning service delivery models is another way successful companies are improving service execution and meeting their customers’ needs. Often, this involves investing in technology to automate and coordinate processes such as order-taking and fulfilment, and inventory management. This can help companies reduce inefficiencies, save on manpower and provide a seamless customer experience.
Some companies have taken this a step further and improved their customer service through the self-service concept, where, instead of waiting to be served, customers can purchase their products through e-commerce, m-commerce and easy-to-use self-service apps.
“Businesses are often afraid to trouble their customers,” says Ms Tong. “But in reality, many customers today, especially the tech-savvy generation, are happy to self-serve to save time, have greater access to information and retain more control over their purchases.”
Another benefit of such models is that they involve the automatic collection of useful customer data. Investing in tools such as a customer relationship management (CRM) system can help companies analyse customer data more effectively, identify customer trends and suggest personalised services and solutions they know individuals will be more likely to respond to. The ability to co-create the customer experience is now becoming a key brand differentiator and is another way of delivering more to customers in a challenging marketplace.
But with the increasing use of technology, what happens to the human touch – essential in any service exchange?
“Automation and technology can free up your service staff to focus on the customer experience beyond mere order-taking and fulfilment,” explains Ms Tong. “For example, some establishments have trained their service staff to operate as style or dining advisors, and they are able to speak with confidence and enthusiasm when they share their product knowledge with their customers. This refreshing experience usually keeps customers coming back for more!”
SPRING Lends A Helping Hand
Some SME owners may have concerns about the time and money involved in investing in these new approaches. That’s where SPRING Singapore comes in. SPRING supports businesses that are keen to embark on the service excellence journey through various initiatives, including an online self-help Customer Service Toolkit that comes with customised versions for the retail sector and the food and beverage sector.
Companies can also apply for an Innovation & Capability Voucher (ICV) to fund small-scale projects such as assessing service management capabilities and implementing simple solutions to enhance service delivery.
For more extensive upgrades, there is the Customer-Centric Initiative (CCI). CCI helps companies undertake transformational service projects such as the development of new standards and blueprints, the design of new training curricula and the implementation of technology solutions to automate service processes. Service excellence consultants and service providers are also on hand to assist in the process.
Improving your service standards may sound like a lot to take on, but there is also a lot at stake. “In our globally connected world, where online platforms are rife with comments, a happy customer’s compliments on your company’s service can potentially reach a wide audience very quickly,” says Ms Heng. “In our digital age, the news that you provide great service will build a stream of loyal customers who will return time and again.”