Can Customer Service Be Improved

Sometimes being closed is the best service of all.

Around the world, businesses are choosing to stay open longer hours and more days. This includes retailers, banks, brokerages, call centers and service centers. Major holidays, previously sacred ground for closing shop, are also seeing more and more businesses staying open. But is this really increasing service to customers?

Service is “taking action to create value for someone else.” But value is more than just available time to customers. When the idea of staying open longer appears to be a competitive advantage, it pays to consider — what do your customers, and employees, truly value?

This issue came to the forefront recently on “Black Friday” in America. The Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday in November is the busiest shopping day of the year. Retailers have opened earlier and earlier on this day in the race to win shoppers. Now stores are even opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, tempting shoppers to give up this originally reflective holiday and forcing thousands of others to go to work instead of being home with family.

Last November, one major retailer, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), bucked this trend. REI declared both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday as holidays they would not be open. Even online staff were given time off. While customers were able to view and purchase orders online, REI did not process orders on Black Friday. For them, there was greater value giving time to employees to be with family and challenging shoppers to spend time outside enjoying life. The “Opt Out” campaign became symbolic to anyone feeling “enough was enough.”

True, this decision was a deft marketing strategy, winning attention and accolades for the company. But employees were delighted. “REI actually cares about me” stated one employee I spoke to. “That’s why I love working here.” This points directly to the relationship between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Organizations known for service excellence almost always have high employee engagement scores. Serving the interests of your staff serves the interests of your customers, in the long run.

The manager of a popular cafe and coffee shop in one US town closes 3 weeks out of the year. One week at Thanksgiving, one week at Christmas, and one week during the summer 4th of July holiday. While she misses revenue these popular weeks, her customer loyalty and annual revenue has actually grown! Customers appreciate and respect the time given to a highly personable and engaged staff. Employees now bring pictures of what they did on their weeks off to display on cafe walls. This creates conversations and relationships between staff and customers that has seen this business grow steadily every year.

A bank in Asia found a similar result. The bank extended branch opening hours both weekdays and weekends, thinking it was adding value to customers. Instead the reverse occurred. With fewer staff members now spread thinly to cover more hours, customers soon complained they were not getting the expected service they had come to know. Yet at other times, bank branches sat empty. Service levels went down, customer and employee complaints went up and waste was created.

In the end this bank re-looked at when customers actually valued the bank being open, and built staffing and service around these times to regain customer delight.

And what about REI? Did the Opt Out strategy win the hearts of employees but lose at the bottom line? No. REI experienced a 10 percent bump in online traffic on Thanksgiving, and a 26 percent rise on Black Friday online sales in 2015. Value created for everyone.

When and where have you seen unusual or counter-intuitive approaches to improving customer loyalty, or employee and customer experience?

8 replies
  1. Rahul
    Rahul says:

    I have seen various similar situations where call centers, bank branches are working 24*7 or extended hours and position it as a being customer centric. However, when you deep dive you figure out that there are not too many takers for the extended servicing hours except for stressed out employees leading to higher attrition and poor C-Sat scores.

    Any service offering needs to add value and facilitate Ease of Business.

  2. Vishal Madaan
    Vishal Madaan says:

    Blogs/Posts/Articles like these have almost become proverbial now. However there is zilch impact on most of the organizations’ culture because the movers & shakers willingly dismiss the idea of reciprocity between employees’ engagement and relationship with customers due to their own arrogance, insecurity, slackness (purposelessness), ignorance, etc.

    Employees come first, if they are engaged they treat the outside world right and that brings more money for shareholder. This is the only sequence and recipe of business success. Still many organizations imbalance this equation and sink soon enough or barely float.

    When employees look forward to their Mondays like they look forward to their holidays; that is when an organizations wins. It is time for organizations to admit that 100% of the employees are people, 100% of customers are people and 100% of vendors are people. If you do not understand people you do not understand business.

    Have a humane side!

    Aki KALLIATAKIS says:

    A great example of “less is more.” I completely agree that companies need to have some time out for managers and employees – and for customers.

    In the UK, the government just suffered a humiliating defeat on businesses opening on Sundays. Most people say “Hands off our holidays/Holy Days.”

    Great insightful post Jeff.

  4. Rajiv
    Rajiv says:

    Management feels by staying close they will loose customers to competetion who is offering open policy. I worm in healthcare and is not practical to refuse to patient waiting for treatment. Problem is employee not getting compensated for the extra service and management feels it is part of their duty. Ultimately work is done but half heartedly, leaving to poor quality.

  5. Bernadette Njoku
    Bernadette Njoku says:

    While it is tempting to have more open hours, time is limiting. It is important to be honest about your business capabilities. What is the point of diminishing returns when more hours of operation is yielding little to nothing. It is important to have time to do things necessary behind the scenes that make a business look like it runs seamlessly to customers. It improves the customer experience. Truly, employees having time off to relax, spend with family and friends, reduces stress, reenergizes and motivates them. I definitely believe it is important to determine the best hours of operations that works for your business — giving consideration to customers’ needs, company and employees’ needs, competition and industry standards.

  6. mike podolinsky
    mike podolinsky says:

    Loved the post Ron! The customer must come SECOND and the employee FIRST. Take care of employees and they will take care of our customers. It is completely UNPRODUCTIVE to push people more and more with longer and longer hours. REI and those like the are being brilliant and benefit not only in PR but employee engagement and productivity. Well done.

  7. Todd
    Todd says:

    Nice article Jeff. Thank you. Often, less is more. Perception of scarcity often drives demand. And for many businesses, the space needs some time to rest and the staff need sometime to restore. Restaurants and Bars are good examples. High performance athletes know that recovery time is just as important as exertion. Best, Todd

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