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I’ve had a theory for a long time that the majority of people want quality products and great customer service more so than a good cheap deal. Don’t get me wrong, people like value for money, but not at the cost of a shoddy experience.  

I think you can take Ryanair as a good case-in-point, whereby some people still want great customer service after paying peanuts. For people who are more realistic, it’s worth paying that little bit more for a better experience. After all, our time and how we feel, are the most important things for many people.

Even in the 'olden days' at Kelkoo, I always saw that nearly 70% of people used to click on the retailer that had the best price but was from a well known brand they trusted and had heard of before, rather than purely the one with the cheapest offer.

Even now I imagine this is still the case, with one exception: being a known name is not enough on its own, and the experiences that customer has had with that brand in terms of customer service and delivery times are a big factor.

The good experiences...

John Lewis

Take an experience I had with John Lewis (high street), after I bought a Weber BBQ from them one day and had it delivered a few days later. While assembling it, I found that a few of the holes were missing when trying to fit the lid and decided to call John Lewis to ask about it.  A little while later I was speaking to their home and garden specialist who identified the issue as being a mistake in the Weber factory, offered to liaise with them on my behalf, and ended up sending Weber’s own roving repair guy round to my house personally to replace it. Now that’s service.

My wife also wanted me to mention how good an experience she had at the Kingston branch of John Lewis over the weekend when she was with my five month old son and her friend plus her six month old daughter. While waiting in the canteen, a member of staff offered to bring their food over to them on a tray and helped them find a table where they could safely park the pushchairs. It’s little touches like that which endear people to a brand.

Air Portugal

We had similar experiences with Air Portugal, surprisingly enough, when flying back from Porto Airport was a pleasant experience as the staff ushered us to the front of queues with our pushchair and helped expedite the process of security clearance with our little one, and help make sure we were comfortable on the plane itself. Their customer service on the phone is shockingly bad, but I can forgive them that now.

Online, of course, there is no reason for this experience to be any different. In fact, you can argue that it should be even better as you’re missing the face to face contact. It goes without saying that Amazon really still continue to excel even as they have grown, although they haven’t done themselves any favours by using a different courier service during the Royal Mail strikes. Kiddicare has also been great when ordering things online, with a fairly decent website, and very prompt delivery times from my initial order. 

Now onto the bad ones..

Mercedes

I like my sporty cars, nothing stupidly fast and impractical mind you, but cars with plenty of power and gadgetry. I had a SLK 55 AMG for many years until the alloys started to rust from the inside and develop a worrying bubbling effect on each wheel. I’d seen this happen to other Mercedes cars before and I asked the garage to fix it as it was obviously a fault with the manufacturing side of things. 

Needless to say, Mercedes HQ officially refused to recognise the issue and pay for the £500 needed to sort it out, even with the garage pushing for a resolution. The outcome was that I told them where to go, promptly sold my car and bought an Audi RS4 instead, and I'm now an avid Audi fan. Mercedes has lost my lifetime custom over something so small.

Mothercare

I’ve also had issues with Mothercare when our pushchair base developed a fault with the brakes after three months. Now for some reason they are not very up-front with their returns policy when it comes to this. The 12 month warranty implies that any faults that develop would result in them being instantly fixed or you getting a replacement. 

Not so, after many frustrating calls with their online support number, it turns out that they will send it away for three to four weeks for repairs, as well as to assess whether it is your fault, before deciding to charge you or not. In the meantime you get a grubby second hand pushchair that has been used many times before as a 'courtesy'.

Now, I don’t know about you, but no child of mine was going to be lumbered with that, and other parents are likely to feel the same. It took me 30 minutes of negotiation with an in-store manageress to get her to agree to replace the base unit with a brand new one.  

Tracker Network

This is a GPS tracking service which alerts you or the police by phone if any suspicious activity around the car is detected. Three months into my new annual contract I had to change car and asked them to cancel it and refund me the pro-rata difference. 

They replied by saying it was an annual agreement and I’d have to live with it, even after I pointed out that their T’s and C’s didn’t specifically state that no refunds would be possible and by also failing to mention that they had a secret monthly plan which you had to ask about before being given that option.

To cut a long story short, they eventually refunded my money after speaking to their MD on the phone, their customer services director, and their PR company numerous times over a 4 week period. Finally, they stated that it was my post on Twitter that finally spurred them into action!

With these last two examples, my opinion of the brands remains neutral. Purely because they didn’t solve the problem right away and made me waste time and energy fighting them for a resolution. It’s almost like saying that if you’re not going to bother doing customer service properly then don’t do it at all.

In our real-time social world on Twitter, Facebook, and the Blogosphere, brands can’t afford to alienate even a few people, yet time and time again some continue to do so. As the old saying goes, 'it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and a second to destroy it'. If customers have a bad experience, they will share it online where other customers can read it.

Companies make mistakes because they are human and that’s understandable. What it really boils down to is how they go about fixing these mistakes and solving the customers problem. This makes the difference between retaining and losing customers.

It’s about how they make you feel and whether you feel like you will trust them again to sort out issues if and when they arise. After all, the company that does this will win my custom time and time again. The company that fails badly even once, will lose me forever!

If you want to compete in the retail world in any channel, then you better get this right, as I predict a future where everyone will be as fussy as I am.

Philip Wilkinson

Published 1 December, 2009 by Philip Wilkinson

Philip Wilkinson is an entrepreneur and creator of Genie Group, which operates sites such as Mobile Broadband Genie. He is also a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect via LinkedIn.

1 more post from this author

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, Foviance

Agree since recent experience was so disastrous! After RyanAir 'forgot' to put my paid for bag on the plane, I had to drive to another airport 2 hours away to collect it from another flight. The car broke down so I needed to hire a car and pay extra for driving back and forth as car wasn't fixed for a week! It was stressful and cost many pounds more than a BA flight in the end.

over 6 years ago

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Imran Khan

Agree - my wife and I had terrible customer services experience from Three Mobiles. Finally we switch to O2 and will never go back to Three.

over 6 years ago

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Anonymous

Easy to say as we'd all like great customer service as part of any product / service we buy - but IMO the masses are cheap deals more than good customer service. To use your airline examples, the budget airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet are the only major UK airlines posting profits - although they're falling at the moment they're still a lot better than the huge losses being posted by quality airlines such as BA

over 6 years ago

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Phil Oakley

I completely agree! I don't like to pay through the teeth but if I'm looking to buy something the first person to offer me good customer service will most likely get my business regardless of if the price is slightly more, a TV would be my prime example, both offline and online.

over 6 years ago

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Alex Guest

If anything, Ryan Air demonstrates that customer service is not necessarily more important than the cheapest price.

Of course, people complain about the hidden charges, the rude service, the broken seats, the lost baggage, the onboard advertising... yet, time and again they book Ryan Air while saying they'll never do it again. Ryan Air thrives on its reputation!

It's horses for courses. The important thing is strategic consistency. It's inexcusable for Mercedes to offer poor service because the luxury brand implies silver service.

over 6 years ago

Philip Wilkinson

Philip Wilkinson, Angel Investor / Entrepreneur at Misc.

@Anonymous and @AlexGuest

Interesting point:  Ryan Air demonstrates poor customer service but people still continue to return and book - why..?

Well this definitely got me thinking and I've been wondering what % of people do actually return and use RyanAir again and also if there is a difference between people who expect poor service and are thus not disappointed and those that expect good service and are shocked.  If you pay nothing and expect nothing then it has met your expectations and you would be quite happy to get nothing again.

The real question is that why should we expect and be satisfied by nothing?

over 6 years ago

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, Foviance

In response to Philip's question, for me personally, as much as I dislike parting with my hard earned cash with the not so cheap RyanAir, they are the only ones who fly to a specific destination where my parents reside. What puts me off about them is what I consider 'naughty' ways of trying to catch people out to pay extra - like moving the hand luggage weighing scales after the security check in so if you are a little over, you can't hand anything back to loved ones to keep for you, you simply just have to pay the excess.

over 6 years ago

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James Hardy, Online Marketing Manager at Worldview Ltd

@ Philip Wilkinson,

"The real question is that why should we expect and be satisfied by nothing?"

The thing is, Ryanair, doesn't give you 'nothing', it gives you the basics that you would expect / need, and no more - it's truly a 'no thrills' service.

 I'd expect Ryanair's return customer % to be quite high - they stick to short haul flights that a lot of people almost regard as taxi services in this modern age - and personally, even though the service / quality would be better I wouldn't hire a limo over a taxi for my everyday needs...

 I think it all depends on your needs - if you're into a taxi run (i.e. short haul flights to Dublin / Amsterdam) service then Ryan Air / Easyjet's the one you'd normally pick, if you're going to a 'prom night' (i.e. flying to new York) then you'd pick the limo if you could so it'd be BA.

 At the moment though less people are able to afford those luxuries, so I'd say customer service will become more important again once the economy really turns round, until then price will rule.

over 6 years ago

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Mike Stenger

"What it really boils down to is how they go about fixing these mistakes and solving the customers problem. This makes the difference between retaining and losing customers." Totally agree! Couldn't have said it any better. The big thing is that a lot of times companies and businesses just institute temporary fixes or not even get around to fixing the problem, just a lot of "Ok, we'll look into it..." or "We're working on it right now..." Once the problem arises, fix it ASAP. Even if you can't get it fixed immediately, if a customer service rep does their best and genuinely is there for the customer, the customer highly appreciates that and they'll remember it next time your business or a product or service your business provides, comes up.

over 6 years ago

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James Hardy, Online Marketing Manager at Worldview Ltd

@charlotte wilberforce - same here, Ryanair are pretty much the only airline that flies to where my parents live, so I'm stuck with them, so I guess that's also a common reason for customers negating customer service - no other choice...

My personal Ryanair favourite though is that if you pay for an extra bag this doesn't actually entitle you to take more stuff (i.e. weight) - it just entitles you to more space to carry the same amount / weight of items that you were always taking!

over 6 years ago

Philip Wilkinson

Philip Wilkinson, Angel Investor / Entrepreneur at Misc.

@MikeStenger exactly.   I heard one suggestion from a certain merchant who joked that they should deliberately make some mistakes so they can then do brilliantly at fixing it which would make the customer ecstatic :-)  

It's the Dinner Party mentality really:  no one is going to tell their mates over dinner about a parcel that turned up when it should have done, but they will rave about a story involving an issue and then how that company went out of their way to fix it and surprise the customer.

On a quick side-note while I remember.  I asked for a crate of wine from Berry Bros the other day and they accidentally sent it to my old address that they had from an old account - an understandable error.  What was great was that they kept in constant communication with me about what they were doing to find out how the error occurred and where it went, and then offered compensation and to resend another box all to make up for it.  That's fixing a problem in the right way and makes me think positively about them.

over 6 years ago

Guy Stephens

Guy Stephens, Social Customer Care Consultant at IBM Interactive Experience/GBS/MobileEnterprise

Excellent post and lots of great comments back and forth. I think what this shows is how we all have very different expectations of customer service and often we are prepared to put up with more depending on the context. For example, we potentially give RyanAir far more 'leeway' because we have set our expectation of their service at a particular level. Likewise, our expectation of the service we might expect to receive from John Lewis is at a higher level, so we potentially give them less 'leeway' for error. However, regardless of whether it's a RyanAir or a John Lewis we all have a minimum expectation of service. The challenge for a company is possibly trying to understand the minimum level of customer service below which no company can go,

over 6 years ago

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Andrew McFarland

Customers want what they want. Assuming that customers prefer good service over low price is a fundamental mistake. Deliberately choosing specific dimensions to focus on, however, is critical to your company's success. Some additional thoughts on the "dimensions" of customer service and the importance of recognizing who your customers are: http://pivotpointsolutions.net/2009/09/07/are-you-in-the-race/

over 6 years ago

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Baby Name and Baby Care, All About Baby

Find baby products, pregnancy information, pregnancy calendar, baby's growth chart, and parenting advice, Baby Care, Baby Clothing, Baby's Diet, Baby Furniture, and baby name everything hear.

almost 6 years ago

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Charlie

I had a big problem with N-power who were charging us for 2 properties worth of gas and electric.
It took a long time for us to get our refund and they even had the audacity to send through a final demand on the second bills.
The customer service was appalling
Needless to say we left and are now happy with southern electric

over 5 years ago

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