Business landscapes may be ever-evolving, but here’s one ultimate rule: how you prioritise customer service inevitably defines what your business means to you and to your customers. In fact, it wouldn’t be so farfetched to say that even if you sell top-quality products or services, one bad experience can put a customer off forever.
No matter your industry, size or scale, delivering excellent CX drives many factors in your favour––customer loyalty, customer retention, or the highly-coveted word-of-mouth publicity.
However, that is easier said than done. We know that providing consistent service to every customer, every time can be challenging. The staggering number of strategies, the variety of channels customers reach out on, and the over-saturated playing field sets a daunting scene.
But wait. There’s no need to get overwhelmed. For our ‘Expert Opinion’ series, we have roped in CX expert Naeem Arif to simplify these concepts for you. An award-winning entrepreneur and management consultant, Naeem Arif is often known as the ‘Customer First Enabler’.
Read on to find out what Naeem Arif—with over two decades of experience in the field—has to say about providing consistent top-of-the-line customer service.
Ques 1: Why did you decide to enter the field of customer experience and be a business coach?
Naeem: I suppose you can say that I didn’t decide to get into CX, it just happened naturally. My family owned a restaurant and then a retail business, so I grew up learning about the importance of giving good customer service. It was always more than just a transaction. A good customer experience now, for me, is something that customers don’t just expect but demand.
Ques 2: How has the customer service industry evolved over the years?
Naeem: It is very interesting to go to new businesses, see what they do and recognise what they are capable of. Traditionally, this was what a consultant or an analyst would do, but for a long time, there wasn’t a lot of research in the field of CX.
A key turning point was when Fred Reichheld (New York Times bestselling author and a business strategist known for his research on loyalty marketing and business model) asked, “What is the likelihood that you would recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?” That’s how we came to the concept of Net Promoter Score (NPS).
It started a new era of customer service, with its language and terminology becoming more common. And, as CX consultants, we can now easily explain these to our clients.
In the last few years, CX has really developed as a profession. There are a growing number of professional CX qualifications and associations around the world, most notably, the CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association) which is leading this space.
Ques 3: Can you talk about the role of technology in improving customer experiences?
Naeem: Technology is influencing all aspects of businesses. Even from a customer’s perspective, it is setting new standards of expectations. Leading this charge are companies, like Amazon and Facebook, that have transformed the way we find, order and consume products and services.
There are two things that have happened over the last decade. Firstly, it has become easier to start a business, which means that there are many more options for customers to pick from. Secondly, people value their time a lot more and don’t want to wait around for things that can happen quicker with the right technology.
Customer expectations regarding the simplest of things have changed. Take for example, queuing up to pay for purchases, one-click buying or next-day delivery. Companies that are reluctant to adapt to the latest technology are in danger of going out of business.
Ques 4: How important is customer acquisition and retention? And how do they affect the business world?
Naeem: A lot of companies focus all their attention on customer acquisition. They are forever chasing new businesses and leads. While it is important to do so, they often forget to invest time in customer retention.
Unless you have a product that you sell only once, you will want to see customers return to you for repeat purchases. Repeat customers are inevitably more profitable—you spend less time convincing them to buy from you—and they become good referrals too.
It often upsets me when a business invests a lot of time in acquiring new customers, and then does not pay enough attention to them, shifting their focus to getting new ones.
Ques 5: Could you comment on the changing trends in how businesses prefer tackling CX?
Naeem: There is an increase in the amount of knowledge and research in the field of CX recently. And with it comes an acceptance of the importance of consumer experience, businesses are not only taking it more seriously, but are also seeing a direct impact on their return on investment.
As a company, you can set up a digital presence, launch a website, handle social media channels, and work on SEO. But so can other companies. What cannot be replicated is providing good customer experiences. A personalised customer experience can create precious memories which can lead to higher customer retention.
Ques 6: Please share a customer service experience that inspired and influenced you as a professional.
Naeem: There are many inspirational stories in the field of CX and more are being created every day.
I always go back to the simple things I see and experience; like that birthday meal at a restaurant where the owner made you feel special. Or when you go back to a retail store you frequent and they remember your name and favourites. Or, say, when you check-in at a hotel you previously stayed at and they remember your preferences.
These are the types of simple customer experiences that create a lasting impression.
Ques 7: As a customer experience manager, how do you implement service-related policies and changes like schedules and new customer incident reporting procedures?
Naeem: I believe that everyone in your organisation, from the doorman to the delivery men, needs to understand the role they play in providing customer delight.
Like a chain, every link has a responsibility. If a single link fails, the chain will break. That’s why everyone must understand that customer service and experience are not just limited to the sales or marketing teams. ‘Creating repeat customers’ must be a part of the company culture, if not its DNA.
It is important to explain to your staff why you are making changes and how these changes will help them work better towards their goals. If you simply ask them to make changes without explaining the reason, they are more likely to resist.
Ques 8: Your book, Customer First: How the best-loved brands convert and retain customers, is quite a hit. What are some key insights you’d like readers to take from it?
Naeem: The book is based on my knowledge and experience of working in customer-facing roles for two decades. There are a number of things I talk about, but here are 3 things that I hope everyone understands after reading the book:
> While SEO and big data are important, they won’t replace a friendly welcome and personal attention. Excellent customer service is how SMEs will dominate the marketplace; customers will remember your service much longer than your price.
> Chase customer satisfaction—not turnover, and you can create a loyal clientele who will further spread the word for your business.
> I am a big advocate of putting the customer first in everything I do. Repeat customers are way more profitable than new clients.
Ques 9: Are you working on any new book? If yes, can you please elaborate on it?
Naeem: After the launch of my first book, I have managed and delivered a CX book series called Customer Experience. In this series, the spotlight is on new experts from around the world. We have released two editions in the last year and both were No.1 bestsellers in different counties.
Ques 10: What tips would you give to business owners looking to improve their customer journey?
Naeem: Customer journey includes the steps that your customers take as they engage with you. It can start off with awareness building, and culminate in buying your product. You need to understand this journey from your consumers’ point of view and not yours because this isn’t about what you are going through as a company. Experiencing your customer’s journey can provide great insights into how easy or difficult it is for them to buy your product or services. Additionally, this journey should also promote repeat purchases.
To sum up
With this interview, Naeem Arif has not only reiterated the importance of dishing out excellent customer service but has also given keen insights on how to achieve it. These useful tips certainly help you strengthen your business communication and customer service skills.