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Customer service gets an upgrade

Published on Friday, 22 Feb 2013
From shoes and mobile phones to mortgages and cars, customer ‘experience’ is overtaking ordinary customer service in efforts to build retention and loyalty.
Photo: Reuters

When you step into a shop, what usually happens is that a salesperson will approach you and try to persuade you to buy some of the shop's products. If their customer service is good and the product appealing, it might be hard to resist reaching for your wallet. Once you've made the payment, the seller's final action is usually a quick goodbye as you head for the exit, signalling the end of their service.

These days, however, this is no longer sufficient when it comes to customer retention.

"We emphasise customer 'experience' instead of customer service now," says Selina Kam, a course lecturer for a workshop on customer services and customer relationship management at the Hong Kong Management Association.

"What customer experience emphasises is more than just the moment that a customer steps into a shop and selects a commodity. It aims to create positive moments for each touch point that involves interaction with the customer."

From the moment a potential customer watches a TV commercial, she points out, they think about the product and decide whether or not to buy it. Visiting the shop, selecting the product, paying for it and receiving after-sales service are all further steps in the customer experience to which companies have to pay special attention.

"Customer experience covers a wider area than customer service and is a much better approach to keeping customers and building loyalty to the brand," Kam says.

In the past, she adds, "active listening" was one of the most effective ways of keeping customers. However, this approach is now out of date, and it is now more important to employ "empathic listening".

"What active listening stresses is the meaning behind words. The salesperson listens to what the customer wants and tries to satisfy their needs. Empathic listening, however, also pays attention to the feelings of the customer. This is a higher level of listening and is far more effective in letting customers feel service with the heart," Kam says.

Also, in the past, salespeople based their sales techniques on a customer's personal status, such as whether they were single, married with children, or retired. This, too, is an approach rapidly going out of date.

"The latest trend is to differentiate customers based on their generation, such as generation X, Y, Z or the 'silver-haired' group, and tailoring sales techniques to each generation," Kam says.

"For example, the silver-haired group will expect somewhat high-end service and to be treated with respect. Generations Y and Z, in contrast, are more casual-minded. To feel good is all they ask for. Providing them with products that signify their personality and exhibit cutting-edge design can meet this requirement."

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