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No more room for bad service2nd of May 2014
Despite pointers that EU economies are on the mend, consumer spending continues to decline across much of the region as incomes fail to keep pace with rising living costs. In response, businesses are having to look at how they can better engage with their customers in greatly depleted markets. Hartley Milner reports on some of the strategies being deployed.
After years of simmering resentment, it is dawning on consumers that they now hold the trump card in the seller-buyer relationship and need no longer put up with indifferent or plain shoddy service.
People have ditched their loyalty to a single brand in favour of shopping around to find the best deals – and they are more likely to complain, or go elsewhere, if the product or service falls short of their expectations.
No more are they prepared to wait on the line listening to irritating piped music, negotiate impossible multi-option menus or deal with ill-trained call centre operatives who are unhelpful, off-hand or frustratingly difficult to understand.
In their quest to keep existing customers and attract new ones, businesses are turning to a concept from another age that seemed to have gone out of fashion – ‘good customer service’. And it is getting results.
In the UK, First Choice Holidays was struggling to raise call centre conversion rates, which had remained flat for two years. It was decided that if sales volumes were to increase a major cultural change was needed, with a focus on enhancing customer service. But would everyone welcome the change?
“The programme needed to be simple enough to implement and sustain in the long term,” said call centre operations manager Rachel Williams. “It had to provide management, team managers and the training team with the skills to deliver effective performance management and sales training, as well as an infrastructure they could manage and maintain.”
Poor sales impact
A performance evaluation highlighted the impact of poor sales and service, and it revealed that some employees were selling selectively to maximise their bonuses. Many were left confused by key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets, call guides were not adhered to and team leaders were task-focused, preferring to deliver quantity rather than quality.
As part of the organisational development programme, branded ‘Re-energise’, every member of staff, including senior managers and team leaders, went through training in effective selling, building rapport with customers and closing a sale.
Managers also received training in coaching skills and performance management. And employees seen as barriers to change were invited to become ‘sounding board’ representatives, feeding back ideas and comments from the sales advisers. Through consistent, regular, open and honest communication, most were won over.
The confusing bonus scheme and KPIs were reworked to reward best practice, cutting out the selective and aggressive selling that had eroded customer confidence. This re-focus helped boost sales conversion rates for First Choice Direct by 10 per cent year-on-year, while the Eclipse Direct brand saw a 25 per cent improvement. And 97 per cent of staff increased their monthly performance rating and were driving sales in key areas, such as ancillary products.
The Re-energise programme also proved excellent value for money, delivering an impressive 1,200 per cent return on investment. Plus it gained customer approval. One commented: “I will always book with Eclipse, you made me feel really important.”
In Spain, women’s fashion retailer Venca sought to increase its customer reach by moving away from its traditional selling channels and placing an even greater emphasis on online sales.
Venca had trail-blazed online shopping since 1996. The digital world, however, is a fast moving environment and Venca saw that its existing business strategy was causing it to fall behind some of its rivals. In 2007, 85 per cent of the company’s business still came through offline orders, but customers were moving away from this retail model, preferring instead the speed and convenience of online shopping.
Quick to respond, the company aimed to shift 75 per cent of its business online by 2014 – while setting itself apart from its competitors by demonstrating the quality of its customer service and products.
Venca needed to ensure that online shopping didn’t throw up a barrier between it and its customers, by seeking a solution that:
• Delivered a truly customer-centred engagement platform, encouraging high-volume ‘rating and review’
• Reduced demand on resource-intensive sales channels, such as call centres
• Generated the insight needed for greater conversion and returns on marketing investment
• Produced user-generated content to optimise traffic to the website.
Venca turned to online reviews provider Bazaarvoice, which had worked with other members of the retailer’s parent company, 3 Suisses International Group.
Social media and innovation manager at Venca Benjamin Lavaine said: “Our objective is to innovate to better serve our customers, because if we don’t, our competitors will. Customer feedback is crucial to this strategy, and with Bazaarvoice we could see the real power of rating and review – and its potential to transform the way that Venca does business.”
Bazaarvoice’s ‘Conversations’ tool allows customers to rate products and their experience from one to five stars, with the option of free text comment. Venca, however, didn’t simply want to give its customers the opportunity to provide feedback, but to actively encourage them to do so.
Bazaarvoice brought in its Post Interaction Email (PIE) solution, which seeks feedback from customers following a purchase. As part of a multi-channel strategy, PIE was accompanied by an email campaign calling for opinions, clear messaging across the website and online star ratings included in the offline catalogue to provide a visual cue for ongoing engagement.
Venca now generates weekly reports identifying products that have received low scores. Monthly reports are also generated, linking star ratings to key performance indicators, including quality control, product volume and sales trends.
“Bazaarvoice’s ability to generate, capture and analyse user-generated content is giving us the insight we need to meet and exceed customer expectations,” said Venca’s Lavaine. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Improvements since 2011, include:
• Higher website profile, helping increase online sales from 35 per cent to 50 per cent in the past year alone
• ‘Rating and review’ up from 100 review submissions a month to 2,000, thanks to the PIE technology – an increase of 1,900 per cent
• 30 additional orders a week driven through PIE alone
• A conversion rate five times higher among customers who have interacted with rating and review over those who have not.
Lavaine added: “Bazaarvoice allows us to focus not simply on the act of purchase, but on a customer experience that creates a cycle of quality and long-term loyalty. We can now measure the ‘pulse’ of our brand and understand how we are is perceived by consumers, giving us greater agility to bring them what they want, when they want it, cut costs and boost sales.”
Back in the UK, beauty entrepreneur Diane Eversall has a chain of 75 salons branded to attract clients from all income and age groups. The issue she faced was that her staff largely comprised younger stylists whose ‘youthful exuberance’ was more engaging to some customers than others.
Complaints reached Diane at her Bolton headquarters, so she sent along mystery shoppers to test the waters, so to speak. What they found unsettled her.
“It was not that the staff were rude or their conduct necessarily bad – it was more that customers were not always getting their full, undivided attention, either at the styling stations or under the dryers,” said Diane.
“Much of the chat consisted of the girls discussing their weekend activities or boyfriends with each other, rather than making conversation with the customer and creating a pampering experience.
“And some salons were even playing thumping hip-hop music – fine for working out to at the gym but not really appropriate for creating a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. A look at our customer base showed we were alienating our more mature clientele.
“It was clear that a number of our salon managers were losing the plot.”
Diane launched a customer engagement programme for all her front-line staff, entitled ‘Put yourself in the styling chair’. Issues such as the choice of music were quickly remedied, but there needed to be a culture change. The stylists were urged to:
• Greet your client warmly and with enthusiasm, to let them know they are your special focus
• Make an effort to engage them in conversation, take an interest in what they say and develop lasting relationships with them
• Be more inquisitive, to understand their needs and suggest alternative styles to achieve that amazing look
• Never leave a customer unattended; ask if there’s more you can do to enhance their salon experience
• Enquire of the customer whether the service they received met their expectations.
“These were simple steps, but they worked and the improvements are being sustained,” said Diane. “We are again drawing in customers from all age groups and providing an experience that our clients say they look forward to. And, as importantly, our staff say they feel more engaged with their work as well.”