ECONOMY

Listen to customers, suggests UK expert

The first Customer Service Summit in Greece, to be held on November 29-30 in Athens by the Hellenic Customer Service Institute (EIEP), will provide sector professionals with the insight of such international experts as Paul Cooper, business development director and general secretary of the Institute of Customer Service, UK (ICS). Cooper heads a high-prestige and active non-governmental organization, whose role was recently recognized officially by the UK government. Its profile was recently boosted further by the annual National Customer Service Week (October 3-9). This is an important event addressed to the country’s biggest companies, but also to sales assistants at central or local stores. The week is aimed at upgrading the quality of customer service across the country and the economy. Significantly, it included the revelation of new data about the direct link between recognition and the reward of employees with organizational performance, and of survey results regarding the relationship between technology and customer service. Cooper branded the week «a great opportunity to approach a customer, fly the flag of Customer Service and thank employees for their efforts.» ICS also conducts a «complaints survey» every year, as part of the week, that invites customers to express any complaints they may have, as well as their opinions and proposals, while asking corporations to report how service could improve and customer problems be managed. Cooper is known to often call upon customer service providers to «steadily encourage their customers to express their complaints, as in this way they will have the material to develop the appropriate handling methods.» So, given the efficient effort made in his country toward upgrading service standards, his view of the UK is quite expected: «It would be a step in the right direction if instead of admiring the Americans, the Italians or the Spanish, more and more of us accepted that customer service in the UK is improving significantly, as one after another study confirms. And this is while customer requirements are on the increase.» Public and private corporations argue it was thanks to the ICS that the myth that «Americans and other Europeans are more able or better at service» was put to rest. The institute’s members include 250 corporations and 4,500 people. Yet Cooper is confident that in the next five years, the target of 600 corporations and 20,000 people/members will be met. He explains his optimism not only by the commercial benefits from their membership, but mainly because «those who ask to become members do so because they have a deep desire to do what is best for them to be recognized as professionals.» In his speech in Athens, Cooper is expected to focus on «Professionalism in Customer Service,» while highlighting the key role that skills and quality certificates have for both corporations and staff. Using his experience at reading and analyzing problems, he often writes and dissects behaviors and attitudes which he expresses in plain language. He mentions that there are employees who only announce that their corporation will provide excellent service. They believe that this will be magically created by the following week. It then happens that the customer service director or someone else is put on the governing board with the intention «of making it work.» That is when everyone else rests, thinking they will not have to worry anymore about those «terrible» customers. This extreme-case scenario is used by Cooper as an example of the common mistakes made, particularly in the private sector, in the effort toward optimum customer service, which not everyone achieves, no matter how hard they try. He then mentions that in order to «patch things up,» they proceed to four specific approaches which he describes in detail and which probably sound very familiar to most executive staff at companies and corporations. «Do you think I exaggerate?» he rhetorically asks. Among Cooper’s conclusions is that «without the right internal culture and approach, and without the recognition of employee satisfaction as a main factor for optimum service, the road will be very difficult. The secret for perfection in customer service is that a complete approach is required. This means crystal clear and stable leadership, the right culture, right people and right instruments and procedures orientated toward the customer.» The Customer Service Summit is co-sponsored by Kathimerini and Skai radio. For more information, e-mail [email protected] or call 210.802.1145.