B2B International
B2B International

April 11, 2008

In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, B2B International Managing Director Paul Hague returns with some thoughts on the state of customer service in the UK, and suggests why satisfying customers is the single most important thing a business must do to succeed.

I probably haven’t read a more important article in the Financial Times than this one from Luke Johnson from Tuesday of last week. Luke Johnson you may recall is the entrepreneur who set up PizzaExpress and who now runs a private equity company as well as penning articles for the FT.

I was reminded as I was reading the article of a meal I once had in PizzaExpress at the time he was in charge. I had chosen a Caesar salad, one of my favourite dishes, and indeed one that any restaurant should be able to prepare. The salad was not up to my expectations in that it was light on the chicken. I did not complain.

When I paid my bill the waitress asked if everything was okay (as they always do) and exceptionally for me I explained that I was disappointed in the food. Without demur she made me out a card on which it said “Please return and have any meal of your choice and you will not have to pay. There is no time limit. It was for two people. I never did take up the offer even though I returned often to PizzaExpress. Rather I carried the note around in my wallet for two or three years feeling good about PizzaExpress and telling the story often to as many people who would listen.

It wasn’t a difficult thing to do, was it? So why is it that we are so poor at customer service in general? Almost certainly it is connected with the level of people we employ who deliver the service and the training that we give them. In restaurants throughout the country we are served by students who are paid a pittance, instructed to ask if everything is all right, and have no clue what to do if someone says it is not.

There can be no excuse for this. If service is one of the most important things that we buy, it is criminal, if we are in charge of a company, if we do not provide sufficient resources to ensure that it is good. The same comments which apply to consumer markets apply equally in business to business situations. In an attempt to reduce costs staff at service centres have no knowledge of the product (or the company) and no capability of dealing with a difficult situation. Service is even outsourced to people who have no commitment to the company. As much as possible is done on the cheap by telephone or online rather than face-to-face.

There can be no better time to set up in business as there are opportunities all over for all companies who believe in service and are prepared to invest in it. It is the great differentiator and it is service that delivers the highest scores in customer satisfaction.