In this opinion post, Hannah Maundrell, editor in chief at www.money.co.uk, advises businesses to be transparent about both customer and employee rights, and to prioritise customer service in order to build honest relationships that can ultimately lead to increased profits on a consistent basis
Being upfront with your customers and employees about their rights from the very beginning is a must. A transparent approach isn’t just good for building loyalty, it makes good business sense too because everyone knows exactly where they stand. This makes life easier for you and them in case of turbulent times further down the line.
Your team are your biggest asset
In the world of fierce retail competition, customer service is the key to differentiating your business from its competitors and therefore your team is your biggest asset.
A happy, well informed team means happy, well informed customers that keep coming back.
By treating your team with respect, behaving with integrity, keeping your team armed and educated about their employee rights and sharing how the business is doing you’ll build trust, loyalty and respect. This should have a knock-on impact on retention rates and job performance too.
Dealing with a difficult situation
If business takes a turn for the worst and you need to reduce the size of your team then be open about it. Whatever you do – do NOT let them find out about potential redundancies via the press. If this happens you’ve left it too late to ever claw back any ounce of trust. Engage with your team and try to find a solution together.
Turn that frown upside down
The law gives customers and retailers very clear rights about what should happen when things go wrong. These are designed to protect businesses and shoppers alike.
If you make sure your team are empowered to know what they are then you can use them as an effective customer service tool to turn a dissatisfied shopper into a happy one that spreads the word about your brand.
Communicating customer rights is rarely done well for fear shoppers will use them to their advantage – this is a mistake. If you intentionally mislead your customers it could result in a loss of business and, more importantly, a bad cloud cast over your brand which could be very hard to budge.
Information is power
By providing clear, uncomplicated information about what your customers are entitled to you are far less likely to have to deal with disgruntled customers taking to social media to vent their frustrations. Why put yourself through a public relations disaster and headaches for your customer service teams when you can avoid it?
All marketing materials ought to be completely honest about what the customer has a right to – whether that be an exchange, refund or credit note. Your teams should know the rules back to front too, and should willingly share these with shoppers. An informed customer is likely to turn into a loyal one.
Learn from the best?
Brands like Waitrose and John Lewis are showing that prioritising customer service and going above and beyond what the customer expects make it possible to increase profits consistently by building relationships.
Budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl have unswervingly been open and honest about their business models. They may be battling on a different ground to the Waitroses of this world but they have managed to keep trolleys – and tills - filled, which I believe they can attribute to their transparent pricing policies. Customers know exactly where they stand.
A new era
Supermarkets recently hit the headlines for not being transparent enough with the way they market their promotions. This cast a message loud and clear to shoppers – stand up for your rights, don’t be misled.
Customers don’t like to be deceived and the powers that be are on their side. The solution is simple – don’t attempt to pull the wool over shoppers’ eyes. If you do, a positive brand perception will be very difficult to claw back. With so many competitors nipping at your heels, ethical traders will be quick to circle in and pick up custom from the fall out.
The internet is rife with consumer forums and social media makes life very difficult for companies to hide behind glossy television ads. The government’s intention to force retailers to be more transparent might feel like a blow to the industry but it doesn’t have to be – see it instead as an opportunity and seize the competitive advantage by becoming one of the good guys. Your employees and customers will thank you for it in the long run.
It is dawning on retailers that customers expect and reward transparency, so stay ahead of the curve by ensuring your communication is honest, simple and easy to understand.
At a time where your customers and employees have more information than ever before available at their fingertips, honesty is most definitely the best policy.