#DailyLife | Blog 028 | Is Customer Service (in Northern Ireland) Dead?

February 22, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Isn't it shocking the level of customer of service we typically receive from businesses here in Northern Ireland? Take the 'Home Improvement' market for example, more specifically the people out there offering their skilled services to assist you in your upgrades or repairs around your home. I think I've phoned roughly 4 local electricians, 5 Joiners, and 3 different gardeners to just get work done, only to be let down by most of them. Yet, it's only the older guys that seem to have shown up. That generation that knows what a hard days graft is all about. Those hardy few that will be there when they say they'll be there.

My late father was of that generation. A stereotypical man who just simply knew how to do EVERYTHING. Not only was he a dab hand around his own home, but he would be often called upon to help with other people's homes too. I remember he had a particular set of clothes he'd wear, worn jeans, checked cloth shirt, a trusty pencil, and tape measure. I wish I was half as manually capable as he was, I'd be a lot less reliant on others to do what I need to do that's for sure!

To be fair, we do have an amazing plumber on hand. No hassle, no mess, straight and honest pricing. He did charge me for coming to turn my thermostat up once, when the house wouldn't warm up following a warm summer, but we'll not go into that particular embarrassing story... I'll never forget the look he gave me, not my proudest moment.

My most recent exposure to the lackluster trades was when attempting to get our offices cleaned. A quick Google search for local commercial cleaning companies revealed that the choice was a little short to say the least (an opportunity there if ever there was one). I set about arranging for the first company to come and give us a quote for what we needed. A date was arranged (no specific time), date comes round, no show. No reason offered nor given. I did attempt to call this company back but was diverted to a residential home voice mail service. Having wasted a few days, I moved on to company number two. As before, a date was arranged, again, no time specified, and again... No show.

The next day an email was received to say they were sorry they didn't appear on the date they'd suggested. They then asked for me to give them an idea of what it was we wanted cleaning so they could give us a price, which sort of irked me a little because I don't know how these things are estimated. I refused to play and set about replying to their (Yahoo Domain) email address to tell them that it was unprofessional not to show up to a business appointment.

The email bounced.

Which was okay (well, not professional obviously), as I knew it would be delivered, because my first attempt to contact them had also bounced. I used the same email address published on their website.

What annoys me about companies with such low customer service levels is the manner in which they answer their business phone, usually with a basic "Hello?" Like you've called them at home and you've interrupted them. Wouldn't it be better to announce who you are and who you represent if you're taking business calls? Am I being too picky on this?

Can you imagine a Hotel Receptionist picking up the phone with just "Hello"?

It just gives off a more professional feel when you answer the phone in a business manner, which these two previous business owners fail to comprehend.

A vacuum cleaner on a carpet.Vacuum CleanerA demonstration of how hard it is to get anything done in Northern Ireland.


Cleaning company number three.

The telephone was answered in a professional and courteous manner (tick), a brief Q&A on who we were, where we were, and what we were after. Following which a date was set for them to come and see us, with a time! Imagine, making an appointment with an actual a time! I knew then we were on to a winner.

Sure enough, (nearly) on time (it's a tough place to get parked where I work) the arrived, gave us a great breakdown of their services and what they were offering and a contract was agreed, there and then.

I've worked in sales for getting on for 32 years (I started when I was 13, do the math) and I've some simple strategies that will get your business further ahead than any other amateur in your operating space will ever grasp.

  • Smile

    • Simple right? You'd think it would be, but look at some of the waiting staff in our restaurants. You'd swear they were under duress. The same goes with shop staff, would it kill you to look up and smile?
    • Smile when you're answering the phone too! It actually has an impact on how you speak to someone, especially when that person is wanting to give you money for your skills/services.
  • Telephone Manner

    • Confirm that they've actually called the right number by telling them who you are and who you work for. Even if you're the boss, let them know. For example "Hello, this is john here for Acme Cleaning Company, how can I help you?" (whilst smiling). If you're busy, or out at another job, always be prepared to write stuff down, have a pen and notebook with you at all times if that's the space you operate in, better still a pen and diary so you can set appointments and you'll always know where you have to be, and when. Don't rush to answer the phone, be prepared before you pick up first.
    • Ask questions, show that you're listening. It demonstrates that you know what you're doing, even if the caller thinks they know what they want, offer your advice if you know of a better suggestion, justify it with a story of why. Stories really help customers understand more easily.
  • Be On Time

    • If you've agreed a date and time, be there. Call ahead to confirm that the caller is still going to be there (they might have forgotten), that way if you run into traffic or can't get parked, at least they know you're still coming. If you're really struggling with punctuality then I'd say definitely call again, and see if they're still okay to wait.
  • Be Professional

    • I'm sure you can stand by your work, otherwise, you won't be in business too long, but go that extra step if you can. It's that little bit extra that customers will remember, it will also set you apart from your competition. Always be professional and courteous while you're a doing it.
    • Be honest about your costs. An honest price will see you get more customers through word of mouth, which is the ultimate compliment for any business owner. I'm not saying do a job cheap, as it will undervalue your services, I'm saying sit down and work out all your business costs and then add what you need to make a living and charge accordingly. If you do it too cheaply, you'll be out of business before you realise what went wrong.

There are plenty of other 'tips' I could throw in there, but I would say those four are the basics. It's what I've built my photography business on (that and my other unique selling points, which I'll not bore you with here), you'll see the feedback I get on my Guestbook Page (check it out if you haven't already done so), it's a testimony to the relationship I have with my clients.

It would be nice, just for a change, for business owners, restaurant managers, retail managers and anyone else out there just trying to do a good job, to take onboard some of these basic elements of customer service, we'd then find we all have a better experience as customers, and they, in turn, would have a better return on their profits from repeat and word of mouth referrals.


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