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Is customer service a dying art small business can save?

Customer service is a simple concept to grasp. Serve your customers well and they’ll come back, don’t serve them and they’ll go elsewhere. Despite the simplicity the latter is happening. Business is embracing self service to reduce overheads leaving frustrated customers to do all the work.

I’m horrified that by 2017 it’s predicted two thirds of ‘customer service’ interactions will not involve any human to human contact. I’m talking no face to face communication and no voice to voice on the phone. Customers will be forced to deal with a machine or talk to a recorded message, it might even be Siri’s sister.

Technology is developing at an incredible speed. The move to ‘do more with less’ is driving invention and development in areas that weren’t even considered 20 years ago.

The Commonwealth Bank is rolling out rows of self service teller machines inside their branches, McDonalds is installing touch screens so people place their order themselves, major supermarket chains have more self serve checkouts than manned ones and takeaway is often ordered online, the same place where bills are paid these days.

Don’t get me wrong, technology is a great tool when used to add value to a customer’s experience but in these instances it doesn’t.

Customers feel ripped off and frustrated when transactions don’t go smoothly with machines. There is interruption after interruption and it’s happening all the time at self serve grocery checkouts – items wrongly scanned or bag weight incorrect and customers left waiting for staff to materialise to enter a code into the machine while queues get longer and customers angrier.

The fundamental rule of business is to start with the intention to be of service, a rule which big businesses are breaking every day.

Small business can obey this rule, making them a point of difference. Small business can dominate in customer service. Simply talk to customers, listen to their needs, give them choice and direction and once they’ve paid don’t let that be the end of it, follow up with them to make sure they’re satisfied. Do what machines can’t.
Remember it’s easier to keep existing customers than find new ones, a lesson big business needs to learn.

Recently I called up a knee brace company and spoke to a staff member about a problem with a part – that one staff member handled every part of my inquiry, sent out a new part for free and followed up with a phone call to make sure I was satisfied.

I’ve since told ten friends all in the market for knee braces and I’m confident that will lead to further sales for the company. That’s what happens when you deal with a person, not a machine.

Customer service is about serving. You can’t serve without communicating. It’s companies that combine good old fashioned service with intelligent use of technology that will survive and prosper over the coming decade. Doing one without the other won’t be enough.

About the author:

This article was written by Mike Irving, founder of Advanced Business Abilities.

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