Customer Relations

by Roisin Murray & Wallace Murray

What you can do as an individual

If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.

Anita Roddick

Quite a lot actually!

How each of us acts makes an impact on customers, and how you behave towards a customer at any particular moment makes a huge difference. To an individual external customer, you are the organisation. Even internal customers tend to see you as being your department.

The work of back office as well as front line staff is vital to customer relations. Whether you work, for example, in Purchasing, HR or Corporate Strategy, how you design or operate your systems is the key to good customer relations as well as reaching business objectives. Whatever your function, doing it with the eventual customer as well as the immediate user in mind will make for happier, more efficient colleagues, plus a more successful business and a more rewarding job for you.

Offer customers a positive experience

People recall outstanding experiences more easily than mundane ones. They are more likely to tell friends about bad treatment than good. To compensate for that negative tendency, you have to make the good experiences really outstanding, and you have to turn any bad experience into a good one. Just look at the difference made by this individual. And he got his own reward!


A customer’s tale

I spend half my life in hotels, and to be honest most of them get the basics right – well they have to. One hotel that does stand out for me is in Belfast. The basics are all there – the friendly staff, the nice décor – but it feels like they make just that little bit of extra effort. Maybe it’s the plastic duck in the bathroom, which always gives me a smile. They also publish a newsletter covering the whole group of hotels and there is a copy in your room. I like reading about their staff changes and what famous guests they’ve had – it sort of feels like I am ‘in the club’.

It’s not just the frills either. Once, there had been a leak onto the bathroom carpet and when I reported it they sent someone straight away. The maintenance man who came and looked at it immediately rang reception, arranged for me to change rooms, and offered to get a porter to help move my stuff. In other hotels people just come and do their own job, but this guy fixed the whole situation for me. OK the leak caused me a nuisance, but within 35 minutes of letting them know there was a problem I was settled in a new room – with very little hassle.

Now that’s what I want from a hotel. I always recommend this hotel group to anyone going to Belfast.

To think up ways you could produce that sort of effect in your work, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Then use your imagination. It’s quite easy really. Just recall an exceptionally good experience you have had as a customer. It doesn’t matter whether you were an internal or external customer. Just make sure you see it through your eyes as a customer.

  • What made it a joy to do business there?
  • How much of that was because of the staff?
  • Did they seem to enjoy their work?
  • What was the difference that really made the difference?

How much did their personal motivation, their knowledge of the business and their rapport with you help?

Now step back into your own shoes in your normal work role, and imagine how you can give your customers a similar quality of experience.

Use procedures for the customer’s benefit

Have you ever felt as if the procedures get in the way of doing your job?

It can seem like a chore to get round the system for the benefit of your customer. At times, you may be tempted to hide behind the system. If you ever feel that way, look again at why customer relations are important to you personally. The infinitely preferable alternative is to use the system to deliver good customer service.

Maybe the system does genuinely get in your way, and it just feels too hard to overcome the problem? That’s natural enough, but wouldn’t it be more fun to circumvent the system? It’s usually more satisfying to use your imagination to overcome an obstacle than to stonewall the customer. Propose a modification. If that’s a challenge, rise to it! Think creatively – it’s more fun than moaning. Enjoy!

If you have a procedural problem, it’s bad news to moan about this in front of a customer. It gives a poor impression – of you and the organisation. After all, customers couldn’t care less about your procedures. They just want a result.

If you feel an urge to tell anyone, make sure it is someone who can actually make a difference to the procedure, such as your manager. Don’t just moan to a colleague: propose a modification to the system. It may or may not be easy, but in the long run it will make your life easier and may earn you brownie points as well.

Modify procedures for the customer’s benefit

Maybe you are the person responsible for the design of a system or procedure. In that case, take the trouble to really listen to the users. Ask how the procedure can better help them meet the needs of the eventual customer. We often assume things about what the customer wants, get it wrong and then design poor procedures. Check if anything in the procedure hinders them, and then change the system to support customer relations.

This may sound simple, and it is. Maybe you can’t find the time? Think about the frustration and bad feelings that may be caused by an obstructive system. Think what effect that has on the organisation’s results. Think what effect that has on your reputation in the organisation.

Show appreciation of colleagues

Many of us tend not to speak to colleagues about their work unless we have a complaint. That might not be true of team colleagues, but back-office functions, in particular, suffer from this. Maybe that’s because people only notice the heating, for example, when it goes wrong. In effect, you are a customer of whoever is supplying the heating. Why not comment on others’ work when it turns out well too? Without the often unseen labour of others we would all have a tough time. Remember that prompt positive feedback encourages desired behaviours.

Walk the talk

Key concept

Everything you do makes a difference.

Go on, make an example of yourself! Remember that how you behave towards a customer at any moment makes a huge difference. It doesn’t just affect the customer. Our personal behaviour also influences our colleagues. Positive as well as negative behaviour can be infectious, so become a champion of excellence in customer relations.