Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | January 23, 2013
Home : Commentary
Customer service an endangered species
Dennie Quill, Columnist

A letter writer to this newspaper has chided the private sector for not giving research and development the attention it deserves. In this technological age, organisations will only survive and prosper if they revise their designs and product offerings.

The knowledge to make innovative changes can only come about through research and development. Even though this investment may not yield immediate profits, there is every indication that it is the right thing to do.

I would add something else which a majority of the private sector has ignored for far too long: investing in training, particularly customer service. Most businesses will spend money on strategies to improve efficiency and achieve cost saving; however, they tend to believe that customer service will happen by magic.

In many instances, security guards have become the face of the organisation, for they are the first persons with whom the client/customer comes into contact. Some are brusque; others are obnoxious and rude. And on the inside, particularly in the retail business, telephone operators, cashiers and clerks are often very dour, unhelpful and unfriendly.

A REGULAR OCCURRENCE

It is not unusual for a customer to enter, say, a pharmacy, select a few items, pay for them and leave without even as much as an acknowledgement from any employee in the establishment. Giving short shrift to customers is a regular occurrence at retail outlets in Jamaica.

There are multiple benefits to be gained from good customer service - just ask the hotel industry. Any successful hotel operator will affirm that when rates are slashed, he may pick up some new bargain hunters, but it is the repeat visitor that keeps the business going, plus the favourable word-of-mouth endorsement from satisfied customers.

The experts in customer service estimate that it costs up to 10 times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. With so many choices, including Internet services, the consumer does not really have to put up with poor service these days. Feedback from the retail industry suggests that poor customer service will drive a customer away much faster than poor quality merchandise. In other words, if there is remorse and restitution, the customer will remember that for a very long time instead of the shoddy item.

A friend of mine who lives in the United States had this joke about returning a car tyre to a well-known retail chain. The thing is, the company does not sell tyres, but just to demonstrate how the organisation is steeped in the culture of customer service, it was willing to give customers the benefit of the doubt in whatever circumstances.

She was also impressed that on every occasion that she has taken her car for service, the dealer follows up with a short survey to find out about her experience.

ONLY A TAP AWAY

Jamaicans who ache for that kind of impressive service are finding out that it is only a keyboard tap away. Log on to any website for famous retailers like Macy's and Bloomingdales and they immediately announce, "We ship to Jamaica," and prices are quoted in Jamaican dollars. One only needs a VISA credit card, not even a visitor's visa, to enjoy this rich customer service experience.

Employers also have a huge part in ensuring that good customer service happens in their organisation. They must treat employers well - a satisfied employee is likely to pass it on.

During last Christmas, I did some shopping at a popular haberdashery in Kingston. One employee was complaining for everyone to hear that she did not get a "red cent extra" and that she had been working extremely long hours. Her body language suggested that she hated the job and resented having to serve customers. It was a big turn-off.

With belt-tightening being the order of the day, consumers are looking for a richer customer service experience to encourage them to spend and will only come about when the private sector acknowledges that training is necessary to guarantee excellent customer service.

Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and denniequill@hotmail.com.

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