In the first in a new series of guest blogs on CEO Insights, Martin van Roekel invites Allan Evans, Global Head of Client & Markets at BDO, to share his views on why customer service matters to the bottom line
Tailoring service delivery in individual markets would boost global businesses: is it time to tear up the template?
Customer service matters to the bottom line. We know from our research in the UK that 40% of businesses are unhappy with the service they receive, and that this clearly has an impact on customer retention rates.
But does it really matter in the boardroom? Research shows that most companies – nearly seven in ten – think they are ‘above average’ when it comes to customer service. But at the same time they admit they’re not appropriately staffed, funded or organised to deliver an exceptional level of service, all of the time.
It would be extremely dangerous for the leaders in the boardroom to ignore customer service, particularly in the current climate where most companies are willing to go the extra mile to retain their customers. In an incredibly competitive marketplace, businesses make their buying decisions on a number of factors – the quality of the product or service they are buying, creative ideas and management expertise - to name a few. But all these will count for very little if levels of service are poor.
And this applies to smaller companies as well as to multinationals. The internet and, in particular, the rise and rise of social media, provides fast and easy access to opinion makers and reviews, so exceptional service delivery has to be a fundamental building block for any company’s reputation.
This environment poses some crucial questions for global businesses in terms of how they can offer the best possible service to their customers or – in the case of the professional services market - clients. On the one hand, they might put more investment into client service teams. On the other, why not tear up the template and think afresh - ? Because although some clients are content with a uniform approach to service, there are others who expect more – as indeed they should - and they are seeking a tailored approach that reflects the culture they work in.
I believe it pays to be alert to cultural idiosyncrasies and differences. In India, close personal relationships are absolutely paramount to any successful relationship between client and adviser, customer and provider, and it’s common for meetings to be conducted in the home of the client. In Russia, meanwhile, exceptional service is linked to a perception of seniority, with clients demanding access to and advice from the most senior people only.
So how can businesses and professional service providers adapt and meet the needs of their clients if a globally uniform, ‘off the peg’ approach is now perceived as out of touch? Here are my suggestions:
1. Trust your team on the ground
For a worldwide company to take high quality service delivery to the next level you need to be responsive and not have to check in with a global HQ when making certain decisions. You can only do that if the global leaders trust their people to have the skills and experience to take responsibility.
Those leading their businesses on the ground should be empowered to think about how their own operation is run. That should result in local markets having the freedom and flexibility to deliver a tailored service. Fostering such a sense of autonomy leads to a more responsive business that will be better equipped to respond to customers’ specific needs.
2. Ensure local knowledge is the cornerstone
To deliver the best possible advice, service providers need to bring valuable insight and give commercially astute and honest opinions. Crucially, local knowledge should be interwoven with proven global expertise. Adding value through new ideas and occasionally challenging clients’ accepted views should all be grounded on a sound understanding of how local businesses operate.
3. Set global standards - but don’t lay down too many rules
Having demanding client service standards is a given, but be wary of binding subsidiaries or member companies by a strict set of rules. A uniform approach to meeting standards won’t suit every client so local markets need to adapt to individual needs and get the service mix right if their customers are to stay with them for the long term.
4. Concentrate on the basics
Customers the world over are fiercely focused on cost, on value, and above all, on service. When it comes to client service from global networks – and I speak from experience in the professional services arena - we can all look the same: but we’re not. What matters is the experience clients have and for those that put a premium on service, winning their trust isn’t about gimmicks or about re-inventing your profession or industry. It’s about consistently delivering the high-quality service that meets the needs of clients and customers, wherever they are in the world.
And that means tearing up the template.