We live in the year 2022. Over the many decades much has changed with the advent of technology. A constant that has been silently and relentlessly driving global economies has been you and I, the ever willing and loyal customer.
Being South African, and Indian by ethnicity, it is absolutely fitting to reference someone who has left an indelible impact on our society here in South Africa and the world at large. You have read about him in your history books for his fervent position toward equal civil rights movement in 19th and 20th century South Africa. Barack Obama has even acclaimed him as his all-time role model, but we are not here for politics today. Very few would know that it is recorded that Mahatma Gandhi made a compelling statement during a speech in South Africa that reverberates with the constant variable in every transaction. That constant variable is you and I. Here it is:
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work – he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to serve him."
– Mahatma Gandhi
Case closed. Done and dusted. Save yourself from the endless scrolling through contemporary CS material in an attempt to decode what true customer empathy and advocacy means. Trying to measure the customer experience is great, but to understand what they mean to your business is undoubtedly that eureka moment.
Instead of conjuring up your company vision and mission statements, I would much rather see Gandhi’s words on company websites and reception backgrounds as you walk in. Imagine every new employee walking into your office on their very first day and from day one, instead of being hammered with KPI’s or your 142-page HR policy document, this is why the business truly exists, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises……”. Just imagine the precedent this sets. It offers a different spin on company culture.
Unfortunately, I have seen very little toward advocacy that the customer is the purpose of our work in business. Most staff simply complain that the customer is complaining. To me, the customer is truly at the heart of any business, the existential purpose beyond profit. Unpacking the layers of assumption simplifies things.
Customer services is the work your company has done for the customer during the engagement. It is not the old thinking of the after-sale only. From the first touchpoint of the customer to the lifetime value they provide to your company. How the Customer has perceived this engagement, whether subconsciously comparing your brand to others or not, is considered as the Customer Experience (CX).
Perception is a fascinating thing because it is a two-way street but on different ends of an unknown road. Sounds complicated? It is, yet it does not have to be. I go back to the constant variable in a transaction being you and I. We are customers. How then do we perceive the experience we have with companies whether static or long-term? I don’t come from a royal bloodline so I would not take offence if I was not treated as royal. Like mine, most customer needs are simple and can be resolved with the due care it deserves.
The customer service agent or salesperson in that transaction, needs to aim to reduce the friction points very quickly. The easiest way to do this is to jump into the shoes of the customer early on. Having spent over 15 years in various B2B and B2C sales teams, this was the single most element an unnatural staff member struggled with. Companies spend thousands of dollars each year on CS and CX training, bringing in the best A.I to understand human behaviour. A collision course for failure.
I have maintained my view on CS departments in that it should not be a “department” like Finance or IT. True customer service is an attitude, an attitude to serve in its basic form. Any contrived effort to serve the customer results in a poor experience yet the service agent may be of the opinion that he has done his best. Different sides of any unknown road.
In a contact centre ecosystem, our challenge is both B2B for our business client and B2C for their customers. It is supremely challenging as you have no physical contact with the customer. Via various channels, either by voice or non-voice we assume the guise of the CS Overlord trying to acquire, solve, retain, guide and support the lifecycle of that customer. It is not an easy feat. Agents with an eager attitude to serve simply stand out. They jump quickly into the customer’s shoes and empathetically lean into that interaction. When done naturally, it is like fine art.
Mahatma Gandhi was spot-on recognising business as depending on the customer. Without the customer, we have no business, we have a hobby. The problem lies in that unlike property and cash in the bank, the customer is not duly recognised as assets on the balance sheet, they get the debtor label sometimes. My tenure in corporate banking was an amazing teacher. The opportunity to work with multinationals and a few smaller entrepreneurs split the business dichotomy beautifully. Corporates would always aim to reduce costs and spend less on customer satisfaction in the attempt to drive revenue with aggressive sales. It is a fine recipe for the leaking bucket theory.
Enter the smart entrepreneur, he knows that in order for his business to grow, he must take the longer yet riskier road. This road means foregoing the opportunity cost of buying more inventory, hiring more staff or a shiny new asset. He is the Mahatma Gandhi of the business world, standing strong with the belief that the customer is undeniably the reason his business exists. He goes the extra mile, the personalised service and even reducing his price to retain that relationship. His reputation hinges on it. He listens to his customer; he understands his customer. When we come back to the basics of why, his customer is king and still at the heart of his business.
Group Head | Business Development
The Blake Group South Africa