It used to be that customer service was the main focus of companies across the land. After all, if you don’t satisfy the people you sell to with your offering, they’re unlikely to come back for more. Seems common sense, doesn’t it?
Before Covid, companies large and small made a big deal about exceeding customer expectations and going above and beyond them. ‘The customer is always right’ was the staple of many brand’s cultures. However, as every business said the same, it actually became difficult to differentiate good service against really great service.
Fast forward a few years—and jumping over a global pandemic whilst doing so—and things have definitely shifted. In some scenarios, the customer is barely acknowledged, let along celebrated. It’s unfair to label this as companies not caring about their customers…the tightening of businesses’ belts because their margins are being decimated in the current cost-of-living crisis means they may not be able to do what they’ve always done, unfortunately.
Freebies, discounts and sales, etc. have all got to be financially underpinned somewhere down the line, and when profits are as sparse as they are at the moment, it’s no wonder such customer perks are thin on the ground. Even DFS are considering bringing their sale to an end. (Note: that’s an attempt to be humorous, I have no idea what DFS are doing.)
Great customer service is easier for smaller companies
In this climate, it’s actually easier for smaller companies to make great customer service their USP. They’re typically closer to their consumers and can therefore personalise their approach. They know their locality and what their competitors are doing (or not doing), which could make it easier to swoop in and grab greater market share. They can pivot easily and diversify into new lines/markets without it upsetting their core offering too much.
Compare that to a big brand…let’s say Costa Coffee. With more than 2,400 branches just across the UK, it’s a huge operation. Every outlet is uniform in appearance and offers the same menu; if it didn’t take this approach, things would get really messy for them, so it’s understandable that they keep things as simple as they can.
In December 2022, Costa failed to add its Christmas favourite, Black Forest Hot Chocolate, to its festive menu. All hell broke loose across social media platforms. Can you imagine them diversifying or making any big changes if that’s how their faithful following reacts when a new flavour is introduced instead of a staple one?
Customer service will undoubtedly be an important aspect in the training of Costa’s baristas. Perhaps influenced by its branches in America, it’s very much focused on its customers having a nice day. They’re greeted well, served promptly and they get what they asked for.
How can Costa ‘go above and beyond’ for their customers? How can they exceed customers’ expectations?
Deliver a personalised service
For Hoops-A-Daisy florist around the corner, however, it’s likely a different picture. With only one outlet to manage, it’s easy to keep on top of customers’ minimum expectations, i.e. bright displays, a clean shop, prompt delivery, attractive gift-wrapping, etc. What their customers may not expect is a free bunch of flowers on their birthday, a gift for them when they spend £30 on someone else, and being able to order through an app. Yet these things are easy to implement and could make Hoops-A-Daisy the number one florist in the area.
Hoops-A-Daisy staff can easily get to know why customers are frequenting their shop…the stories behind an anniversary bouquet, who those roses are for, and why a get-well-soon gift was selected. They can use this information to personalise their service and connect with their patrons.
It works both ways, too. For instance, at Christmas, a friend made a purchase using Apple Pay from a local vendor. It was only when she got home that she realised it hadn’t gone through properly and it appeared as if she hadn’t paid for the item. She went back to the shop the following day and sorted it with the owner, who had to put the transaction through their system again. This time, the technology worked and everyone was happy—particularly the shop owner who would have had to stand the loss had it not been for my friend’s honesty. She had been driven to go back as she knew the shop owner wouldn’t have huge financial reserves to cover the loss. She didn’t want to think someone working for an average wage would be out of pocket at Christmas, amid the UK economy taking a nosedive.
My friend strives to be a good citizen but if this had happened at Costa, she may not have gone back to them, as she might have thought it would be something she could live with. As she assumed the significant profits Costa makes each year would more than cover a coffee that wasn’t paid for.
Note that I haven’t mentioned price anywhere in this article. Prices tend to find their own settling point, and price certainly doesn’t equal value—which is far better aligned with great customer service and meeting/exceeding expectations.