Toward Better Customer Service

Craig Douglass On Consumers

Toward Better Customer Service

Transaction or transformation? To better serve consumers, leaders need to decide between transactional leadership and transformational leadership. There is a difference.

A company, a brand and leadership focusing on the transaction of buying and selling something limits itself to mere process. But if that same brand’s leadership practices converting a buying and selling function into an experience, the benefits of true customer service come clear.

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It is, however, a two-way street. Better consumers beget better customer service, and vice versa. How to be a better consumer is where we will start.

Better consumers know more about who they’re dealing with. Options abound for determining the quality and reputation of a company and its brands. Search online. Look for third-party suggestions or reviews. Ask others who may have used the product or service. Check with the Better Business Bureau. It’s all part of doing research before you buy. Remember: Buyer beware.

Packaging offers more than just an attractive presentation. Truth in labeling regulations or requirements by the Fair Packaging & Labeling Act enable consumers to make value comparisons between one product and another. The act also provides information on consumables or edibles, including ingredients and nutrition. Read the label.

Communicate with the retailer on your experience. Make sure the store knows your satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a brand, and ask that it pass that information along to the distributor. Store websites, too, offer feedback opportunities, as does contact information listed on the product label. If you don’t tell them, how will they know?

Keep receipts. Nuff said.

Express yourself with your feet and your dollars. This is particularly effective when keeping the environment in mind and influencing greater sustainability practices. In fact, being a better consumer includes such everyday practices as buying products that are contained in recycled packaging, that are made from recycled materials, that can be recycled themselves, that have longer shelf life to reduce waste, and that have natural or organic ingredients rather than processed or artificial ingredients. And remember, reusable retail bags reduce the need for plastic bags that don’t naturally degrade in landfills and often end up in streets, streams, rivers and oceans.

Consumer input from an informed and enlightened point of view, which, in turn, transforms our buying habits, can work to make for better products and much better customer service. The corporate side of the equation, to reciprocate with better customer service, can be influenced by consumer habits.

Companies take heed and thrive: Demonstrate empathy with customers. Put yourself in their shoes. Understand their emotions and the reasons they buy. And, when necessary, change corporate policy to customer policy.

Consumers want to have a conversation, not a monologue. The transaction is part of that conversation. But customer feedback and research of consumer wants and desires are positive ways to learn how best to respond and transform.

Train customer service representatives. Also, understand that customer service begins with the procurement of raw materials and is followed through with sustainable manufacturing and distribution, pricing and promotion. Also important is working closely with retailers to share what you have learned about your consumer, as well as what the retailer has learned. Listen.

Adopt continuous improvement. Admit errors and correct them. Have an effective crisis communication plan if something were to go terribly wrong. Differentiate your product or service based on the brand’s positive attributes, consistent with communicated consumer opinions, actions and habits. Hire people who “get it” and people you can trust to live out transformational customer service policies.

The two-year-plus pandemic has shaken consumer trust and changed consumer habits. One result is consumers are searching for adaptive relationships. Because of this phenomenon, an opportunity has been created for companies to change and meet new consumer needs. To survive in an evolving normal, learn the right thing to do, and do the next right thing.

Craig Douglass serves as executive director of the Regional Recycling & Waste Reduction District in Pulaski County.