“Inside the Head of…” A Personal Perspective on Customer Service: Dr Stephen Fletcher

Beginning a new occasional series of Q&As with people involved in customer service, Dr Stephen Fletcher, Director of The OPC, a Business Psychology consultancy, talks about his experiences and insight on achieving outstanding customer service.

Inside the Head of… Dr Stephen Fletcher, Chartered Occupational Psychologist

Dr Stephen Fletcher is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with over 20 years’ experience of working with clients whose customer service has a chequered customer perception.  Here he answers 10 questions that reveal some of his reflections on how to get customer service right, and wrong.

What first interested you in the field of customer service?

A         I had the chance to work closely with a corporate client who wanted to improve levels of front line customer service.  The more involved I became the more it became clear that to understand great service you first have to have a good understanding of the psychology of  people’s needs, and that this extends from the needs of the customer, back to the needs of the front line service providers and then throughout the organisation.  It demonstrated to me and to the client the many varied ways in which psychology can add value to the way organisations organise themselves to deliver customer service.

What has psychology got to offer customer service professionals and organisations?

A         Great customer service is all about giving your genuine self and creating a positive emotional experience for the customer.  Psychology can provide the insights into how and why people experience particular emotions and needs and so can help organisations to understand what they need to do to create these positive outcomes for their customers.

Q  What is the greatest challenge facing customer service organisations today?

A         Today’s financial climate.  Unfortunately, customer service is often viewed as  secondary to the core product or service and when finances are tight, the temptation can be to cut investment in customer service.  And if organisations also choose to raise prices to cover increased costs and lower volumes, the customers are faced with a double whammy: a higher price for a worse service.  It is also much more challenging to keep customer service employees motivated to deliver outstanding service if organisations are having to cut posts and this is bound to have a bad effect on service quality.  As I mentioned earlier, great customer service is all about creating positive emotional responses in customers and it is far harder for front line employees to achieve this when they themselves are fearful and fed up.

Q  Which organisation impresses you most in terms of their approach to customer service and why?

A         Can I be greedy and choose 3?

First, Heathrow Express, the service train from London Paddington to Heathrow airport: for providing a seamless service for customers by raising their standards to match those of the airlines that their customers are using.

Second, Pret a Manger, the sandwich chain: for the reliability of both the product and the service, plus the feeling you get that the people who work there really enjoy giving you a great service.

Third, the Disney parks: for the “wow” factor in their customer service and their ferocious attention to detail in their new venture planning to ensure that they will create an amazing customer experience.

Is the customer always right?

A         They may be wrong but they are always right.  By that I mean that a customer’s perception is his/her reality and that is what we have to deal with.  Sometimes the customer will be unhappy because of something that is not of our making, but that is irrelevant – we still have to work to create a positive experience for them.

What improvements can organisations make that will give the biggest bottom line improvements

A         To focus on giving great service every single time.  The big differentiator in today’s difficult economic climate is service and any reduction in efforts to ensure that the customer receives a “wow” experience is simply short sighted.

Are there any enduring myths about customer service that you can debunk for us?

A         That it isn’t worth expending energy and resources in trying to woo back a disaffected customer.  A dissatisfied customer provides an invaluable opportunity to engage with your customers in a unique way in order to really listen to how they feel, to demonstrate your genuine interest and desire to come up to scratch and then to exceed customers’ expectations.

What is the most important lesson that working in the field of customer service taught you?

A         There are many, but perhaps 3 of the most valuable to me are:

  1. Customers are your best marketing tool – in this day and age happy customers will sell your business for you.
  2. If you get it wrong, don’t just put it right, use the opportunity to show just how customer focused you are and stand out from the crowd by wowing the customer.
  3. In the service sector, your employees are your brand.

What one thing would you advise all customer service organisations to do?

A         Treat your employees like they are your most important customers and they will give great service to your end customers.

Q How do you think the approach to delivering customer service will change over the next five years?

A         I think that the concept of “customer experience”, and in particular the emotional aspects of that experience, will become the key focus for organisations looking to ensure that their service is outstanding.

Also, there will undoubtedly have to be a greater focus on internal customers as organisations realise in increasing numbers that if they don’t get it right with their employees, they can’t hope to get it right with their external customers. Successful organisations will have managers who see their central role as delivering to their customers, ie, their internal team.

Psychologists will need to use their evidence-based skills and knowledge to support organisations in changing their culture so that the whole organisation organises itself around, and centres on, the internal and external customer.  I believe this will be fundamental in ensuring that the quality of customer service continues to meet and exceed society’s changing expectations.

Website: www.theopc.co.uk

Linkedin: http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/stephen-fletcher/16/829/50

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One Comment to ““Inside the Head of…” A Personal Perspective on Customer Service: Dr Stephen Fletcher”

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