Small Business Advice | Customer Service for hire

My background is very much of a retail nature, where customers and customer service are the very heart of the business. But traditionally, hire has been quite outdated in this respect – it’s an industry that’s been focused on products and the mechanics of the hire process more so than on the customer. And I think that’s been a mistake.

When I joined HSS, there had already been some progress in addressing this and over the past few years, we’ve been resolute in building on this. We have been leading the way in bringing a more customer-centric focus to hire, aligning our business model to the needs of our customers and making sure we are best placed to work with them, wherever and whenever they need us.

We’ve been busy opening new branches to consolidate our nationwide network and we’ve also invested heavily in expanding and updating our equipment fleet to ensure that it is easy for our customers to find us and to get what they need from us.

But it’s no longer good enough to just be a ‘supplier’; it’s got to be about becoming an indispensible part of your customer’s supply chain. Our customers are why we do what we do and we work hard to deliver what they need from us – I don’t think you can or should do anything else; even during the tough times of a recession. And yes, the current market conditions mean a big part of that will focus on costs, both your own and those of your customer. But for real success, it’s equally essential not to only take a cost reducing approach. Service and compliance must be maintained and, even more than that, innovation must be embraced. We’ve pioneered some great initiatives and hire related services that are all about putting the customer at the very heart of what we do and in making hire easy for them and all of this has helped us to outperform the market despite some very challenging times.

As part of this dedication to customer care, we developed and launched our award-winning online business management system, HSS LiveHire to give our customers better visibility and control of the equipment they have on hire. Saving time and money are always important factors for any business but, now more than ever, our customers need us to help identify efficiencies and drive out unnecessary costs and LiveHire helps deliver against those needs in a way that no other system can do.

I readily admit that our customer-centric approach has led to other hire companies looking over the fence at HSS and thinking that we’re somewhat mad. But to be honest, if we’re going to stand out from the crowd in our industry, I’m very proud that it’s because we put our customers first.

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Small Business News | Valued employees can make a real difference

The Independent recently covered the story of Simon Murdoch, co-founder of amazon.co.uk and Vineet Nayar, author of Employees First, Customers Second, raising some interesting points about the value of employees to a start-up business.

The article looks at the difference customer service makes to a start-up businesses. Using Simon Murdoch as a case study, the Independent describes his background and experiences of a ‘customer centric’ approach as one that has led his to such a belief. Looking at the wish for a ‘personal touch’ that many of today’s customers seek, the article moves on to examine how large number of internet based start-ups achieve this when the company is, by definition, never face-to-face with customers. Vineet Nayar’s publication of Employees First, Customers Second, suggests that the key to customer service is creating a situation where employees feel like owners, thus becoming personally attached and eager vessels of change. This signifies a move away from traditional customer service to one that provides internet based, small and medium start-ups with a more sustainable platform for success.

To see the article in full, please visit the Independent website.

Small Business News | SMEs Can Grow Four Fold by Listening to Customers

Advice from customers has the biggest positive impact on UK small business growth yet almost half are missing out on this valuable insight, a new study revealed today.

The research by academics at Kingston University, commissioned by Royal Mail, has revealed that 44 percent of small and medium sized businesses are not tapping into the knowledge of their customers. But of those SMEs that do seek the customer view, 65 percent said their advice was important or even crucial, ranking it as the advice source that has the most business impact. It revealed that over the past three years, 51 percent of businesses experiencing falling turnover and more than half of businesses experiencing falling employment (53 per cent) did not seek advice from customers.

The study goes onto suggest that the UK’s small and medium sized businesses could accelerate their growth potential by nearly four times by making better use of available advice and support services, in particular by tapping into valuable informal networks. Read more about this news on Fresh Business Thinking.

Small Business Advice | Remote Working

If you’re not there for your customers come rain, or shine, you can be that one of your competitors will be. A recent YouGov poll found that winter weather disruption caused employees in the UK to lose 124 million working hours.  The study further claims that only 11% of those stranded employees had the option to work remotely.

Remote working may seem difficult to implement but it can be the right solution for small businesses wanting to compete with their larger rivals. A very interesting insight into the ways of safely implementing remote access for SMEs, that will not only protect your company against natural disaster, it can also help you be everywhere, at any time and save you hard earned customer loyalty.

For the full story, please visit PC Pro website

Customer Service for the SME

Duncan Baker, a Director of the Institute of Customer Service explains why customer service excellence is imperative for the SME, and gives his top tips of achieving it.

Institute research shows that companies with a reputation for service excellence and committed frontline staff have a 24% higher net profit margin than rivals who do not enjoy similar standing, and can achieve 71% more profit per employee.

Good customer service is often what sets SMEs apart from their larger counterparts. Twice yearly the Institute runs the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, with 26,000 consumers rating the organisations which give them the best customer service. Historically, it is the small, local businesses which come out on top as they are naturally closer to the customer.

Customer care doesn’t have to be expensive. Making the customer feel special by understanding exactly what they want and delivering it to them is the key.

It is also about getting it right every time – consistency is essential. Putting customers at the heart of your business improves employee performance, increasing business performance and making you more competitive.

Customers may visit several businesses before deciding to buy – make sure yours is memorable for more than just what they buy.

Top tips to achieve customer service excellence

1. Recruit and train the right people

People with the right attitude are essential – “hire for attitude, train for skills” should be the maxim. Once in place, consider formal qualifications for staff, such as the Institute of Customer Service professional awards.

2. Keep staff happy

Staff retention is crucial. Efforts should be directed at recognition and development programmes to determine potential, and build career plan structures.

3. Lead by example

Getting customer service right, and continually improving it, is a long-term commitment that must be made by those at the top. Recognise its importance, believe in the strategy, and lead by example.

4. Welcome complaints- and act on them

Complaints are free market research and should be welcomed. Ensure you hear them all; resolve the ones you get well; stop them being repeated. Your organisation becomes more efficient a result, as you spend less time handling complaints and more time on the business.

5. Build a good reputation

Research shows that organisations should concentrate on four key issues – going the extra mile, treating people as individuals, keeping promises and handling queries and complaints professionally.

6. Tell the world

…as long as you really are great! Customers can see through marketing hype related to service much easier than they often can with products.

7. Measure performance

Measure the right things, not the easiest things. Measure what is important to your customer, not what you think is important to them. Understand the expectations your customers have. Without that information how can you hope to satisfy their requirements?

8. Benchmark your company

Looking at what other businesses do and how they handle dissatisfied customers can give you pointers. Get out there and learn from other firms.

9. Communicate

Customer service can depend greatly on your organisation’s communications skills. A reputation for great service can be easily lost by a poor telephone manner or a confusing website.

10. Recognise the importance of customer loyalty

It is essential to keep the good customers you already have and gain their loyalty. A two percent increase in customer retention has the same effect on profits as a 10 per cent cut in costs.

Duncan Baker, Institute of Customer Service

About the Institute of Customer Service

The Institute of Customer Service is the professional body for customer service and is the first port of call on all aspects of customer service, delivering tangible benefits to organisations and individuals. Our aim is to ensure that our customers can improve their business performance and their customers’ experience.

The Institute is a membership body with a community of more than 350 organisational members – from the private, public and third sectors – and around 7,000 individual members.

For more information about the Institute of Customer Service go to www.instituteofcustomerservice.com

Customer Service |Service with a smile

In hairdressing, customers see the salon as a place to escape, and in order to create this atmosphere, staff must be motivated and ready to promote your business in the right way. At Hatstand Nelly, we follow these five golden rules to make sure service is always delivered with a smile.

HSN 2899 F4 Final Pro

Treat your team like clients: It’s important for management to make their staff feel part of the experience, and to express this to customers.  If the team believe in your company, this will be evident in their working attitude.  Ongoing training ensures that all staff are upskilled to a level where customers can ask for an appointment and are happy to have any member of staff do their hair.  When our percentage of ‘transients’ (those flexible to go to any stylist) is up, you know you are doing something right.

From staff room to stage: Working on the shop floor, staff should approach the situation like a performance on a stage.  This can be applied to any business; no matter how bad a day it is, or how busy it is, each customer is investing time and money in your business, and they expect the highest level of service from the professionals.

Catwalk creation to creative styling: As trends continue to change, knowledge is key.  Staff should be up to date on the latest trends and offer a creative twist for their clients.  To stimulate creativity – and some healthy competition – staff should create mood boards to present to their peers and go forward with new, on-trend ideas.

Are you off on holiday this year?: In this industry, customers don’t want to be asked where they are going on holiday or if they are going out tonight, as they were probably asked at their last cut and blow dry.  A well rounded team with different characters should be ready to keep a conversation going throughout the customer’s visit – or judge the situation should they want to relax with a magazine.

Until next time…: We’re all looking for brand loyalty and repeat custom from our clientele, but to ensure this, small businesses must do their bit to beat off competitors.  Going the extra mile to give after care advice on their hair style, or how to manage that look in between salon visits help to bridge the gap until the customer is back through the door again asking for milk and sugar in their tea.

Making your customer king!

I don’t think it would be too bold to say that at some point in our lives, we’ve all been on the receiving end of good customer service.  I also don’t think I’d be wrong if I said that when we do get treated poorly as customers we’re much more likely to talk about it then when it’s been good. It’s human nature?

Customer service feedback

You could, when feeling flippant, argue that businesses can afford to let the odd customer slip through the net from time-to-time but with social media sites giving consumers a louder voice than ever before, getting customer service right needs to be top of the business agenda.  But as we’ve seen from our Customer Kings 2010 Report, Customer service has become increasingly vital to British small businesses.  Keeping customers loyal and engaged can be the real difference when it comes to staying afloat in tough times.

The good news is, it’s really not that hard to reach ‘customer service utopia like the winners of Customer Kings Awards 2010 but to get you started, here’s a pointers:

  • Make customers the centre of your businessonly one thing will truly help you become a customer king. Find out everything you can about your customers, ask them what they’re looking for from your business and then do it. Be prepared to be like them, and talk to them on their terms – whether that’s face to face, via telephone or by Facebook
  • Join the online revolution – 40% of small businesses are now using social media like Twitter and LinkedIn, and those that do are likely to have more customers and be more optimistic about the year ahead!
  • Learn from othersand don’t be afraid to look around for good ideas. 61% of the businesses we spoke to said that they had changed their business in the last year to make it better for their customers. Look at other companies’ ideas on customer service, and if you think it could work for you too then go for it
  • Take tech seriouslythere’s a big difference between using IT to run your business and using it to make it the best it can be. Online retailers (like one of our winners, Glasses Direct) were rated as the best when it comes to customer service, but just 25% of British small businesses are selling online. Is yours one of them?
  • Keep your people closeyour staff are one of your most important assets when it comes to keeping your customers loyal, and almost 40% of businesses told us that they were just as concerned about losing their best people as they were their customers. Do everything you can to the people that matter to your customers in your business