BMMI’s mission is to win the hearts and minds of its customers by delivering exceptional service, but how can this be achieved and how is ‘exceptional service’ defined?
I believe that achieving exceptional service is a multifaceted and holistic process; and it’s important to note that sales and profits are a by-product of focusing on what really influences a customer to spend.
The key concept is centring customers in everything a business does, in every process and within every individual doing them. They need to be at the core of your company’s common vision and goals. It is really important that everyone is always reminding themselves of this and always asking themselves if they are really looking at issues from a customer’s perspective.
This applies to every single employee of the business. Whether you are in the storefront and dealing directly with customers, or you’re working in a backend function, there’s always relevance to how your job impacts customers.
A matter of perceptions & expectations
For something to be determined exceptional, you need to understand what the basic requirement from your side is. This is where it is really important to understand your brand reputation and customers’ perceptions. No matter what you do, your perception is a reality.
Who you say you are, and what you deliver, must be in line with your customers’ needs. You must refrain from being biased and thinking you are something that you are not. The only way you can start understanding who you are is influenced by a number of factors that have to do with your brand, your location and the cues you receive from your customers to list a few: the design of your logo, the people you employ, your product offering and your pricing. These factors eventually unite to give your customer an overall perception of your brand and the expectation of what you would receive if you were to shop there.
An integral part of this perception is also based upon attention to details such as presentation and appearance. A business must always ensure it doesn’t leave even the smallest details to chance, because what might seem insignificant from a business perspective might carry tremendous weight in a customer’s view- if customers can see it, it’s important! By focusing on how you present yourself in line with your brand and attention to detail, your business ensures that a customer is comforted by the fact that everything has been thought out.
Customers’ perception is a crucial part of the process, because customers will rate their expected experience against it. For example, if you think of one of the world’s top, premium airline brands, you might expect excellent service, amazing quality and a premium price-that’s how you benchmark them. If you are looking at one of the smaller, budget airline brands, your expectations might not be very high, so you would rate them lower.
Once you engage with and experience these brands, you will match your experience against the benchmark your expectations created. If the expectations are matched, the brand has delivered on what they’ve promised. However, if it goes below, that means the brand has under-delivered and that is the degree of how dissatisfied their customers will be.
Understanding people’s perceptions and expectations allows you to understand the minimum required for you to deliver on your promise. Once you’ve understood that, then you can actually understand how to deliver on it exceptionally at all times, and that’s where value generation comes from. This is how you attract people and build a loyal customer base.
Facing your reality
To truly understand your brand perception, you need to face reality. One fantastic method to do this is by conducting a gap analysis. What you need to ask yourself is what you want to achieve and in what areas do you want to deliver on your promise. You then break up your services and your offerings into key categories and list the key requirements that will help you achieve your vision.
Based on the above, you then develop an unbiased questionnaire or organise a feedback session with a representative sample of your target audience, conducted by somebody unrelated to your business, and test whether you are delivering on your key requirements. You then need to assess how far off you are, and what you need to tackle and delve deeper into to understand why people have this perception of you. It’s important to note that this should be integrated into your key KPIs to allow you to constantly check in and see how well you are doing.
The next step is putting together a realistic and implementable strategy of how you can actually achieve the change in perception you require. I think the key is to constantly check in and be tuned into the realities around you. It is constantly about how you bring yourself back to this level of meeting and exceeding expectations, and that’s what I truly believe is exceptional performance. There is no magic key to achieve this, because, usually, if you look into the information deep enough and you do your homework, the answer will reveal itself in the end. This is why uninhibited, raw, honest feedback is so important.
Another fundamental part of this process is ensuring that you have the right people on-board, those who share your core values and equally care about achieving exceptional service. No matter how great your product offering is, you will never be able to achieve exceptionality until you have the right people making up your team to help you consistently deliver on your promise and represent your brand in the best way. Getting the right people starts all the way from the recruitment and hiring process, as well as ensuring continuous training and development for your team. Exceptional service requires commitment across the board- and yes, it is everyone’s job!
Become consistently exceptional
Once you start seeing the change in perception and begin to achieve customer satisfaction, you cannot become complacent. The challenge of exceptional service is remaining consistent and constantly delivering on your promise.
Every interaction a customer has with you is deposited into an archive of experiences that help form an overall perception. When a customer has more good experiences than negative ones, their overall experience will be positive and if you happen to let them down at one point, they are more likely to be forgiving. If you are constantly under-delivering or being inconsistent, the consequences will be a lot more severe and what makes a brand truly great is all about how it can bounce back from a negative experience.
Bouncing back from a negative experience entails correctly handling situations in which your customers are dissatisfied, by being sincere, truly willing to listen, setting clear timelines to correct the issue and communicating any corrective actions with the customer. This builds trust, an integral component of exceptional service.
In your customers’ shoes
The process always begins and ends with a reality check, before beginning once again. Constantly ask yourself: what does the customer actually want? Am I doing something today that’s really going to benefit my customers? Am I covering everything? By asking these questions, you can refocus and actually deliver what your customers want. Customers’ needs will evolve and the challenge is to evolve quickly enough with them, otherwise you run the risk of being an irrelevant brand.
The team at Alosra, for example, is actively encouraged to think like customers. Store Managers go through an activity where they give each other feedback. They take off their name tags, and are told to think not like a retailer but like a customer, and they walk through the store as if they are going to shop in Alosra, figuratively walking in their customers’ shoes.
The reasons and justifications for how things are done when thinking as a manager are sometimes different to when you are thinking like a customer. I then say to them, look at exactly what you’re doing as a customer, and make this your priority. That is the framework to exceptional performance, which will lead to exceptional levels of service and exceptional customer perceptions.
Pavlos Manousos Babiolakis,
Head of Operations for Alosra supermarket, a subsidiary of the BMMI Group