The Importance of Strong Customer Service in a Recession

It’s a widely held view that there’s nothing like a recession to improve customer service. Customer service can be defined as the provision of services or activities to customers before, during and after a purchase that enhance the level of customer satisfaction with a product or service.

Customer retention is of utmost importance during a recession when everyone tends to decrease their spending. Customers are no longer flowing into businesses as they might be in better economic times. The best way to retain customers is with exemplary service that makes them want to buy from you again and, ideally, recommend your product or services to others.

While many treat the idea of improved customer service during a recession as a no-brainer, big business is far from unanimity in embracing the customer service mantra. This Bloomberg Businessweek article reports the findings of Forrester Research that only half of the 90 large companies surveyed for their study were trying to avoid cuts to their customer service budgets.

The large women's clothing retailer Talbot's was highlighted as one company whose customer service actually worsened as they stiffened their return policy. Airlines that have begun to charge for checked bags are another example of poorer customer service during a recession. These companies are obviously just trying to make ends meet, but making things more difficult for customers is a good way to lose business.

So we know that good customer service is a good strategy to retain and even increase business whether the economy is good or bad, but what makes customer service good? This blog post by Joseph Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis, and the following comments shed some light on the issue of what good customer service is.

Using Fairmont Hotels & Resorts as a case study, Thornley stresses the warmth and attentiveness of employees as an indicator of good customer service. This makes customers feel like they’re dealing with someone who will treat them as an individual, not a number or statistic in their performance metrics. The following comments confirm that the personal focus is what separates mediocre service from good service.

A valuable guiding principle when it comes to dealing with other people in any setting, business or social, is the Golden Rule [Matthew 7: 12] to “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Paul took this one step further when he wrote, “In humility regard others as better than yourselves” [Philippians 2: 3]. The application of these lessons to customer service is somewhat self-explanatory.

A prospect is a potential sale or customer. A prospect becomes a customer when they're sold on a product or service. The terms customer and client are often used interchangeably, but distinguishing between the two can be helpful when thinking about what good customer service is.

A customer is someone who buys from you once. A client is someone who buys from you over and over again because you have successfully formed a trustworthy relationship with them. Businesses generally treat clients with a great deal of respect as they are a consistent source of revenue.

Prospects need to be converted into customers which, in turn, need to be converted into clients. A good way to do this is to treat prospects as if they’re clients at the outset of your relationship with them. This is an extension of the lessons taught in Matthew 7: 12 and Philippians 2: 3. You’re not only treating prospects as you would have them treat you. You’re not only regarding them as better than yourself. You’re treating them better than they expect to be treated. This is powerful methodology, but what else can be expected of the Bible?

Humility is the principle virtue that Jesus and Paul are pushing. Paul is calling us to imitate Christ’s humility in Philippians 2. King Solomon wrote that “humility goes before honor” [Proverbs 15: 33]. In the context of customer service, humility means treating people kindly even when they’re not showing you the same level of respect.

God calls us to love each other whether times are good or bad. In the book of Amos, we see God’s frustration with the proud complacency of Israel’s wealthy in neglecting the poor. God brings famine, drought, plagues and finally invasion on the Israelites for their failure to apply the golden rule and the virtue of humility.

This has direct application to best business practices. The smartest companies have good customer service regardless of whether or not the economy is in recession. This just goes to show that God’s ancient law and wisdom have tremendous practical value even in modern times.

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