Three decades ago, customer service was considered the only way to differentiate your brand in a vigorously competitive market place. Today the service challenge is not only to stand out, but also to innovate, disrupt and transform in order to create an ‘extra value proposition’ to the customer through service.
This is not the time to shiver in fear and count on losses. Instead, be an initiator; be a value creator that makes the customer feel that you are with him/her until they get back on their feet. In the process today the buzzwords are to ‘innovate’, ‘go digital’, ‘work from home’ or ‘employees working remotely’. Let’s discuss, with the use of these mechanisms and a few case studies, how we can create value for the customers when we move to the ‘new normal’. This can be done by any business irrespective of its size or nature of the industry.
Case 1 – Service can add value to any business
A lady who was selling green leaves near our apartment complex was using a mini public address system to get the attention of the customers saying, “Keera… Keera… Keera…” She was in a mini-van with different varieties of green leaves. This lady was dressed in a very neat attire with a clean face mask. She spent time explaining the nutritious benefits of different types of green leaves she was selling to give every customer the perfect choice. She was wearing gloves.
The right hand was used to sort and give the green leave to customers, whilst the left hand was used to accept cash and give the balance from the pouch tied around her waist. She very politely gave the contact number of hers to every customer and got our phone numbers as well, promising to inform us a day in advance about her next visit to our vicinity.
Everybody in our complex admired her service and they are all looking forward to her next visit to the compound. Moreover, some had requested particular green leaves that suits their health, based on the knowledge she had shared with the customers.
You need not have rocket science knowledge or work in a large multinational company to extend customer service. It is something that can be done with common sense by all walk of vendors. This shows us how in a crisis situation with the use of common sense, a new market segment and loyal customer base can be built by rendering a unique service.
Case 2 – Extra effort pays off
In my apartment complex, we have a WhatsApp group formed with 40 members during the crisis time. The salesperson of ‘Finagle’ bread having found out one of the members’ contact number, sent a message informing us that they are continuing with the production of fresh breads for home delivery as an essential service despite the long curfew hours. Except me, each household had informed the salesperson about their requirement within the given time period so the delivery could be made on the following day.
A few hours later, I called the salesperson, apologised for the delay and informed him about my requirement. After listening patiently, he courteously responded, “Sir tomorrow’s delivery route is already scheduled with the allocation of our limited production, however, I will try my level best to honour your request and call you back”. As agreed, he called me a few minutes later and said that he had managed to accommodate my requirement.
Since then once in three days this salesperson has been constantly taking our orders through WhatsApp followed by a reliable and prompt delivery. The other day when I went to the supermarket I took the time to search particularly for the ‘Finagle’ brand product over the other brand which we consumed for years.
As the Chinese saying goes ‘Crisis is an Opportunity’. In such a situation, find out how you can do your ordinary activities in an extra-ordinary way. When there is a demand for an essential product fulfilling the requirement with an ‘extra effort’ with a ‘follow up’ will ensure that the customer comes back to you ‘one more time’. Many of such ‘one more times’ eventually create a ‘lifetime value’ towards your brand.
Case 3 – Designations are irrelevant for service
During the lockdown, banks were considered as essential services to facilitate some of the basic operations in the economy. The staff were working on rosters in order to adhere the social distancing measures enforced by the authorities. Shera Hassen, the Head of the Privileged Banking Unit of NDB, who was seen on duty at the counter along with her entire team to shoulder the pressure said, “This is the time our customers are in need of our service the most. Under these pressing circumstances we have to set aside our formal designations and do whatever is possible to put the customer at ease. We work collectively so as to fulfil the requirements of the customers during this curfew time limitations. At the year’s end when the performance of my staff is due for appraisal, there is one important factor that I will take into consideration. That is to see to what extent they created an extra value proposition through either ‘face to face’, ‘online’ or ‘work from home’ interactions with our customers during this crucial time”.
The needs of the customers remain unchanged and, in most instances, they are likely to have further complexities due to the challenges we face in these difficult times. You need to stretch yourselves to the fullest and leave designations behind, to serve the customers. The commitment demonstrated by each team member during the crisis to strengthen the service culture should be recognised and rewarded.
The COVID-19 pandemic has now brought about complex situations and challenges for all businesses. Be it at a small, medium or large-scale entity, exploring the possibilities of doing ‘easy things first’ to demonstrate the attitude that you truly care for the customer can make a significant impact in the customer’s outlook towards your brand. During a period of crisis, people usually tend to feel the importance of being cared for through service the most. Such acts will always inculcate a lasting impression about the service providers that is certain to bring about long-term relationships in the post-pandemic era.
(The writer is a sought-after ‘Service Excellence’ specialist in Sri Lanka. Over the last 25 years he has conducted nearly 3,000 inspirational and educational programs for over 750 organisations in 11 countries. His work can be seen at www.dhammikakalapuge.com.)