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Sustainable success

It seems like the larger a company gets, the further away from its customers it seems to be. Today’s technology and social habits can accentuate that distance significantly. Whether it’s a call centre on the other side of the world, voice recognition software, the internet or mobile apps it all seems to conspire to get in the way of customer contact. In this post I look at customer satisfaction, how it can inspire huge loyalty and lead to sustainable success.

And yet there are companies like Apple that can create a wonderful customer experience and ferocious loyalty and most of their customers rarely if ever speak to an Apple employee. As you can probably tell I am an Apple advocate/fanatic!

What gets in the way

I wonder if what really gets in the way is a culture within organisations that diverts attention onto other things. It might be the relentless pursuit of financial results, or complying with regulation, or many other factors that make companies internally focussed. Small businesses are usually relentless in their focus on the customer and as they grow the danger is that other priorities take over.

Long term successful companies have the customer built into their DNA and building and maintaining that culture is a key component of success. Whether that be Apple through technology or M&S in the 1980s and 1990s through the daily contact between staff and customers, trust and loyalty are prizes that we should value above everything.

Guitar fix

A good customer experience is not the same thing for all customers. Some measure experience in mouse clicks, with others its value-add. It can be a smile, or reliability, or going that extra mile. What we need is an understanding of what our customers expect and what will delight.

I took a 30 year old bass guitar into a shop in Dublin (Guitar Fix for the initiated), I was so impressed that they could tell me the year it was made and the shop in the UK where I had bought it in the late 1980’s! I will go back now every time because they have knowledge and expertise. Armed with insights into what customers appreciate, then it’s up to every organisation to deliver for the customer consistently and professionally.

Investment in people

In a mature and highly regulated industry the customer experience needs to be improved by both enhancing the service and ensuring a customer culture that goes the extra mile. Looking at the world through our customer’s eyes is not easy, but that insight is key to improving. We are investing a lot in accredited training to make sure that all our staff across the Island are knowledgeable, and professional.

As part of the training they must spend two days a year working with a customer to try and help that understanding, and a further two days working on community projects that support enterprise or financial education. Small steps, but every step counts.

Customers know

I belong to an industry that on average has low levels of customer satisfaction, but at its best can inspire huge loyalty. I have been very fortunate to have 20 customers who have agreed to work with us for the next two years to advise us on our strategy and customer experience. The sessions we have had have been open and honest and painful for us at times, but they give us great opportunity to change the way we do things.

The last meeting was in Belfast last week and we talked about access to credit and the role of the relationship manager. Listening to customer experience in running their own businesses, whether large or small, is insightful and is making a difference to how we run the Bank. Entrepreneurs are often great leaders and have helped me to think differently about how I lead the business through challenging times. The insights and advice that we have received has been invaluable and we will continue to evolve both our service and culture as a result.

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