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Fawlty expectations: The new customer service reality

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If you’re a certain age, you probably grew up watching some pretty funny old school British sitcoms on TV. I’m thinking of shows like Fawlty Towers, featuring the great John Cleese, Are You Being Served? and Yes Minister. All three shows were basically about different sectors of the service industry: hospitality, retail, and public service. They were all produced in the 1970s and ’80s, long before the internet became a staple of our lives, and they all show the various ways you can provide terrible service.

Along with the fashions, the attitudes to customer service are from a different era. Try to imagine getting away with the laughable customer service you see in something like Farty Towels in this age of online engagement and transparency? Sure, some people in business still probably serve up some Basil Fawlty style experiences, but that’s now called out quicker than you can log in to Facebook and leave a scathing comment.

The expectations of customers have been raised by the new customer service reality of the internet. They have been empowered by information and choice. They won’t take shoddy service anymore, and here’s the kicker, customers will tell other people about bad experiences – and bad word of mouth is a business killer.

Business owners, especially those dealing with the public in sectors like hospitality and retail, need to be aware of the damage bad reviews can do to their reputation. They need to have a contingency plan to deal with such events because even the best run businesses can have slip-ups or an off day.

If your business wants to have a strong relationship with customers and maintain its reputation online, you need to be prepared to handle queries and complaints across all your channels; whether that’s through your company website, social media accounts, or even on independent review sites. Not all of the queries are going to be reasonable, but you have to find a way to deal with them in a reasonable manner.

A really significant factor in customer service comes back to the basics of knowing your customer. Ask different business operators and they’ll tell you that knowing your customer is a mix of art and science: it helps to have a ‘feel’ for the people you are dealing with and you also need to have some hard data on who they are.

Smart operators, like some of those we see on Marketplacer sites, have a connection with their customers that comes from sharing a passion, from knowing what makes them excited, what makes them tick. They back that tribal knowledge with astute data analysis in order to better understand what customers want from them.

In the age of online transparency, businesses using an online marketplace platform like Marketplacer are already in touch with people who speak the same language (globally), which eliminates some of the confusion that comes from dealing with customers who might have been funnelled to the business via broader, less differentiated channels such as Facebook or YouTube advertising.

As for what Basil Fawlty might have been like if he was still around dealing with customers today? This Kiwi chef might just have been channelling a little of the old Basil passion when he took to Facebook with some choice responses to customer complaints. Needless to say, probably not the best way to go about your customer service.


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