/ Shopping

Complain for change: do bigger brands treat customers better?

I have three golden rules I try to stick to when I go shopping: shop locally, buy British and reward good service. Yet strangely, I’ve found that bigger brands are being better at customer service than the smaller ones.

When I can, I always try to use local shops. And I prefer to buy British as it puts money back into the economy, creates jobs and boosts UK tax revenues – a virtuous circle. But I’m finding my highest priority – excellent customer service – is becoming ever more important and yet more difficult to find.

Does bigger mean better?

Ironically, some of the best customer service I’ve received of late has been from the big chains. Starbucks and Prêt a Manger stand out in particular, as they’re both consistently welcoming and helpful.

And the Costa coffee kiosk on the freezing cold platform at Doncaster Station deserves a special mention as I’ve had consistently excellent service there. They make my coffee just how I like it (I’m fussy), and they’re happy to have a natter and do it all with a genuine smile.

And this is what confuses me. If big companies like Costa can get it right, why can’t smaller traders do it? While some small retailers really go the extra mile (I’m looking at you Cowling & Wilcox art shop, Foxcroft & Ginger café in Soho, and Trinity Bar in Harrow), others don’t seem to care. This is hard to understand given the current economic climate, which should have them throwing all their energy into attracting much-needed custom.

Pile on the praise

I’m quick to criticise poor service, but I’m equally fast to praise an excellent member of staff. For example, I went to Brownsea Island earlier this year and everybody there was friendly and went out of their way to help visitors. They could have been grumpy and unhelpful (it’s very difficult to storm off an island in a strop), but they seemed to genuinely enjoy helping visitors. They were so impressive I joined the National Trust on the day, so it was a win-win for both sides.

When you do send companies your positive feedback, I think they genuinely appreciate it. I often find they’re keen to pass the positive feedback both up and down the chain. We all like to receive a pat on the back, and it means so much more if someone with no vested interest takes the time to send in some genuine words of gratitude.

So next time you receive great service, don’t just smile, take positive action:

  • Tell your friends and family.
  • Tell the manager or drop an email to head office.
  • Write a glowing review on Which? Local.
  • Tweet your followers and to the company concerned.

Companies that encourage good service deserve my business and those staff members who go the extra mile deserve recognition. I try to maintain at least a 1:1 praise/moan ratio. Who’s with me?

Digiconvs says:
30 August 2012

Great read, thank you Martyn.

Customer service is the most important part of any business in this day and age. Sometimes bigger brands do an exceptionally good job with respect to customer service but this may not be the case to generalise. Different customers have different experience. Often bigger brands tight customers in small prints and or define time scale to reply to customers’ queries and complaints; but why they don’t define any time scale for selling and or marketing to people?

Customer service is the new PR and it is the way forward to building brand equity, but how many brands actually bother to see it in this way?!

I agree with you with regards to those brands you mentioned as good practice.

Some smaller businesses may not offering good customer service, simply because they probably don’t know how and they don’t have access to training and courses widely available to larger businesses. I recently had a bad experience with a large and well-known Pizza restaurant in London. I mentioned my concern in less than 140 character to the brand owner on Twitter, they almost immediately asked me to fill in a form on their website, which I did; but it took them over a week to respond to my query – and they did it because I published a blog post about it and sent the link to the Pizza restaurant. It took them 15minutes to send me an email saying that my feedback is being dealt with. So if I didn’t publish that blog post and didn’t send the link to the Pizza restaurant, they would have ignored me as they did for over a week.

They are still figuring out a reply – after offering me a free meal but failed to acknowledge table booking and date suggested. I contacted them to confirm what they offered me about two weeks ago and I’ve been ignored.

Do you think the business care about how I feel as a customer? I’m sure you know why they don’t care and bothered to get back to unhappy customers.

Sadly customer service misunderstood by most businesses and to fix this we need commitment and transparency from businesses; it is a cultural thing which needs changing if brands care about long term reputation and cost saving on “monitoring” conversations.

There’s customer service and there’s customer service departments. Many of the latter exist to help employees get away with bad customer service.

Olympic volunteers have set new standards of customer service culture in the UK and we need to demonstrate that we want more. A fortnight ago, I hesitated while checking the platform number I had arrived on at London Bridge and a volunteer was offering help within seconds. Eat your heart out Network Rail.

To praise effectively email someone in the organisation above the praiseworthy individual. Contacting headquarters about good service in a branch can work wonders.