Importantce of customer service

The Importance of Customer Service

The business landscape is brutally competitive today. For anything we need there is a wide array of choice and options available. Deciding which one to choose is often a dilemma. Let us look around; If you want to travel, you have a choice of multiple airlines. In every city there are numerous hotels available. If you want to go to a supermarket to do your grocery shopping you have multiple choices in almost all locations of any metropolitan city. If you want to buy an apartment, there are numerous projects being developed in almost every location. So what should be the strategy for businesses competing in this extremely challenging environment?

The simplest and most effective strategy in the short run for any company in any industry is to be the cheapest as long as you can deliver what you promise. The largest segment of the market for almost any product or service is the one looking for the cheapest option. Therefore, if a company can be the cheapest in the market and deliver what it promises and still be profitable, there is no better strategy. It is a strategy used by budget airline like Ryan Air, budget motel like Microtel, economy car like Nano. The list goes on. The trouble with this formula for the businesses is that it is difficult to keep your customers happy if you are constantly looking to cut costs and therefore generally speaking, customer retention is very low. This makes the business struggle in the long run because customer retention is a lot cheaper than acquiring new customers. The other problem is that since price is the only USP of the businesses going for this strategy, as soon as there is a new kid on the block offering even cheaper, the game is over. Your customers do not have any loyalty to you; their loyalty was only to the price. And you knew this all along.

Today almost every business has become “commoditized”; meaning there is a plethora of competing companies offering the same product or service. Having a unique product or service that no one else offers is very rare. There are only a handful of companies like Apple and Tesla that command this rarefied exalted status. Therefore, in my opinion the best strategy for a business is to focus on its customer service. If you can win your customer’s heart with your service, she will always be loyal to you. Charge what you need to charge as long as it is a fair price but deliver a service that will wow your customer. Go out of your way to give the customer what is beyond her expectation. Make customer service the most important pillar of your business. In bti we live by a set of 6 Core Values and the most important core value of our company is “Win the customer’s heart”. In this article let me share some remarkable stories of customer service.

1.    On 26 November 2008, Mumbai was attacked by terrorists in which about 174 people were killed. The iconic Taj Hotel in Mumbai was one of the targets of the terrorists. In each and every restaurant of the Taj Hotel, the employees serving the guests asked the guests to take cover and formed human chains to protect the guests. In the process, as many as 11 of the hotel employees were killed trying to protect the guests. In the Taj Mumbai there is an upscale Japanese restaurant called Wasabi. There were 50 guests dining in the restaurant at 9.30pm when the attack happened. There was a spiral staircase which offered an exit route. The staff made sure that each and every guest was evacuated before they themselves came down. Thomas Varghese the head waiter decided that he would be the last one to leave after all the guests and his staff were safe but unfortunately, he was too late. The terrorists had come to the restaurant by the time he attempted to go down and shot him dead.

2.    Nordstrom is a departmental store famous for its customer centricity. I bought a pair of expensive shoes from a Nordstrom outlet in Toronto. I was excited about my new purchase and wanted to put them on immediately. I came out of the store wearing my new pair of shoes. After walking back to my hotel which was about a mile away, I realized that the shoes were not the best fit for me. The next day I returned to the store and asked to buy an inner sole to make the shoes more comfortable. The inner sole did not solve my problem. Disappointed, I got up to leave but sensing my gloom, the store attendant asked me if I would like to try a different pair of shoes in exchange or take a full refund. I was surprised by his offer. I had walked a mile with these shoes and they were not just a cheap pair of shoes. But the culture of Nordstrom is to never let a customer go unhappy. They refunded me the full amount and since then I have become a loyal customer of Nordstrom and singing their praise in this article.

3.    Fred Steingraber the CEO and Chairman of a major global strategic consulting firm A.T. Kearney and his wife were at a charity fund raising dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. All the elites of Chicago were at that event which was being hosted by the President and First Lady of America. Upon arriving at the event Mr. Steingraber realized that he was the only one who was not wearing a tuxedo and a black tie. The trained eyes of Hans Willimann the Banquet Manager of the Four Seasons Hotel noticed that a guest was looking uneasy and he quietly came over to ask Mr. Steingraber if there was anything wrong. When Mr. Steingraber told him the problem, Hans asked Mr. Steingraber to follow him. Hans called the hotel seamstress to immediately come to his office and then took off his own tuxedo and asked her to urgently alter it the size of Mr. Steingraber. The job was done in 15 minutes and Mr. Steingraber never forgot this experience. For the next 15 years while Mr. Steingraber was the Chairman of A.T. Kearney, all of the company’s functions were held at the Four Seasons generating revenues of millions of dollars for the hotel.

4.    I was at a very busy McDonalds restaurant in Chicago. I saw an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair come into the restaurant with great difficulty and finally place his order at the counter. There was a long line of customers but the person serving at the counter closed his register and requested the customers to go to the next counter. He then washed his hands, personally collected the items that the elderly gentleman had ordered, took the food to the table where the customer was sitting and then helped the customer eat his meal.

5.    Bti completed a project in Moghbazaar and handed over the apartments to the buyers. There is a standard clause in the deed of agreement we sign with the buyer that says that if the area of the apartment increases or decreases by more than 5% then, in case the area is found to be less, the developer will compensate the buyer and vice versa if it is found to be more, the buyer will pay the developer the pro-rated amount for the extra space. Upon completion of the project it was found that the apartment size had increased by about 125sft which was more than the 5 % allowance and therefore as per the said clause in the deed of agreement, all the customers were invoiced the extra amount and they all paid the due amount.

Several months later a widow wrote to bti that she was very happy in her new home but the extra amount levied on her was causing her financial distress. On grounds of compassion we waived the extra amount for her. But then we ran into a moral dilemma. What about all the others who had paid the extra amount? Maybe there was another widow who was facing a similar difficulty or maybe there was family who had run into financial distress and now found it painful to pay this extra amount? In all there were about 50 apartments in that building and this happened sometime in the mid 1990s when bti was a much smaller company than it is today. The amount levied on the buyers due to the extra space was about Tk 3crore which in those days was a lot of money for us. But if we were to remain true to our core values and walk the talk then we had to do what had to be done. No other customer demanded a waiver but we voluntarily refunded the extra amount we had collected to all the buyers in that project. To this day I am convinced that the goodwill we earned from the customers of that project and the word of mouth that they spread could never be earned no matter how much we spent on advertising.

A great customer service is one of the best investments that a company can make. Every successful company understands this and lives by this mantra. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “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. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” 

Comments (9)
  • The best customer service is rendered by those who experience feelings of joy in being able to satisfy a customers wants / requirements
    These people have a different mindset which enables them to stay positive and friendly and not get put off by the hassles created by the customer

  • Dear Arshi,

    I am enclosing an extract from your writing below:

    “Therefore, in my opinion the best strategy for a business is to focus on its customer service. If you can win your customer’s heart with your service, she will always be loyal to you. Charge what you need to charge as long as it is a fair price but deliver a service that will wow your customer. Go out of your way to give the customer what is beyond her expectation. Make customer service the most important pillar of your business. In bti we live by a set of 6 Core Values and the most important core value of our company is “Win the customer’s heart”. In this article let me share some remarkable stories of customer service.”

    My comments are specific to Developers only.

    I am in full agreement with you regarding your business strategy to focus on customer service.
    However,I am sorry to say,that the Developer’s community in Bangladesh does not really believe in it.On the face of it,every company has a “Customer Services” department – but, I say with conviction that they do not deliver on their promises. It is more like a holding operation to test the clients patience.

    I am also a sufferer of this process with one of the top developers in town.I have requested many of my friends in your community for advice and intervention to help me out.Their has been reluctance on their part,in spite of agreeing with me that I am right! I even have friends in REHAB.The response has been the same.I believe,you have some kind of a complaints cell in REHAB.But,they seem to be “looking after” their own community! Everyone has suggested that I should accept what’s happening and get it over with as quickly as possible.

    Let me state categorically, I have checked with many landowners who are sufferers of this ignorance and mistreatment,once the empty and vacant possession of the land is handed over to the developer.And even after apparent completion of the project.

    Please note,my comments are general and true comments – not specifically aimed at you but, your community.I am sure at times,some landowners may also be at fault too.I would request unbiased arbitration and quick dispensation of issues,without going to court. I would also earnestly request you to raise the conscience of your community collectively.They should be concerned about their reputation and branding in this age of social media. But,above all deliver true “Customer Service”.

    I am available at any time to have a one on one discussion with you on this subject.

    Thank you for going through my writing.

  • Dear Arshi Haider

    Your have picked up an important subject ie Customer Service which is true as described by you.

    The key to success in any business is a satisfied customer whose word of mouth is a powerful advertising tool whether positive or negative.

    I have been reading your articles with interest and it seems you do have immense knowledge on what you write. I wish we had many many such people like you who can make a difference to satisfy customer needs in their respective organization.

    As I am in the Aviation Industry business, for us customer service carries highest importance and we have no option but to live with it without any comprise.

    People in the service industry have no place if one is not keen on customer satisfaction. It is a thankless job as far as compromise and positive approach is concerned.

    But we see customer service is far from reality in many cases. I feel more when I don’t get same as working in the Airline Industry for many years we had to ensure customer service with satisfaction and the airlines made their people fully aligned by giving extensive training in this field. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of those trainings held abroad in the respective airline headquarters abroad.

    Now coming back to BTI we see adds of customers who are fully satisfied with your services. But since I bought an apartment from BTI about 18 months back in Basundhara I had gone through few difficult time with your people who always give an explanation that will not satisfy a customer particular when you are buying an apartment.

    I told them that they should concentrate on customers who are not satisfied with what they are used to from layman point of view.

    We have learned that attending to dissatisfied customers is even more important to hold the reputation of the company that has been built with the hard work of so many people.

    However at the end few were solved but rest not.

    Best Regards

  • Very important point you have out sir to make an organisation really successful. We are always learning from you to make us more advance in customer service.

    Waiting for your next article.

    Best Regards
    Rafiqul Islam

  • Dear sir, thank you for writing such an important article regarding customer service. Without customer satisfaction, no one will survive long time.

  • Sir,
    Was eagerly waiting for such a topic that relates completely with my career. Till date I feel proud that I had the luck to work in your organisation under the most important “Customer Service Department” . Still I miss the experiences, challenges to dive winning the customers’ hearts. That you always used to motivated us the “Mantra”.
    Undoubtedly BTI is the most customer centric company specially in the real estate sector in Bangladesh. Moreover the level of service was taken to the international level.
    It’s obvious that Customer Service is the most important Department, sector for any kind of business may be it’s grocery, restaurants, supermarket, airlines even shoe company either.
    For keeping the best practices in CSD bti is blooming and will keep blooming (my opinion). It’s very tough job I know but in bti the way it was practiced i never found others not even in other business though.
    Unless the CSD is being customer centric and taking the oath winning the customers’ heart (which is the first and top core values out of six) businesses will face difficulties.
    The most appreciated point that i can recommend that is taking each and every client’s at the same priority. No segmentation. Client is client.
    Reading this write up I got bit emotional and nostalgic. Memorising difference initiatives those were taken, examined and at last finding out the best positive result.
    I do appreciate you for maintaining this level of Customer Service in your organisation.
    I do believe the Customer Service plays the most important role to get repeat customers, unless he is not being satisfied with the service he is not gonna refer any other (for purchasing apartments or giving land for development). In this aspect bti is the gainer.
    Wishing all the very best to you and bti.

  • আপনাকে আবারো অনেক ধন্যবাদ অতিব গুরুত্বপুরন একটা বিষয় নিয়ে লিখার জন্যে। আমার জীবনেরও একটা বড় অংশ বিদেশে কেটেছে।

    আমাদের দেশে বিক্রয় সেবা বলতে যা বুঝায় তা যে কন ধরনের পন্য বিক্রি পরজন্তই মোটামুটি ভাবে সীমাবদ্দ।

    আপনার প্রতিষ্ঠানের টাকা রিফানড করার যে বিরল ঘটনা উপস্থাপন করেছেন তা আসলেই বিরল। আর সে কারনেই হয়তো বি টি আই আজ অনন্য উচ্চতায়। যা অন্য আর আট দশটা ব্যবসায় উদাহরণ যোগ্য।

    কিন্তু আমাদের দেশে অভার অল বিক্রয় সেবার যে অবস্থা তা খুবি এলারমিং। বিশেষ করে ব্যাংকিং সেক্টরে।

    আপনার লিখা অবশ্যই অনেককেই অনুপ্রাণিত করবে ভাল উদাহরণ হিসেবে। সুস্বাস্থ্য ও দিরঘায়ু কামনা রইল।

  • Before I retired I worked in a private bank. I know how important customer service is.

  • Several compelling examples set the tone for this essay arguing that customer service is the key differentiator in this age of competitive business. I too had an experience with Amazon where I had given them an incorrect shipping address and later called to complain that I had not received my package. They cheerfully refunded my money even after I admitted it was my mistake and thus made me a lifetime customer. As the author shows in his BTI example, it may be financially cumbersome for businesses, specially fledgling ones, to provide excellent customer service, but is there an alternative for surviving and thriving as a business? Reading this essay, I think not. The insights gleaned from a lifetime of building a large successful business emphasizing customer service will be valuable to all.

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