This article first appeared in Business Mind Africa Issue 005/2014

“The secret formula for business success is the concept of creating a rabid tribe of followers and fans. It is undeniably effective that if you can turn your customers into raving evangelists, you have an unpaid sales force out there spreading the word about you” Maria Ross
On every CEO’s dashboard, irrespective of the size of the organization, be it a start up, an SME or a blue chip firm, are the bottom line numbers that reflect the company’s financial health status. Central to their planning and what keeps CEO’s awake at night, is how to connect the dots and influence the company’s performance positively.  What reaction therefore is expected when presented with a cost-free solution to spike results? What right thinking CEO wouldn’t step closer towards a proposal that delivers ‘priceless’ results?
In the wise words of Maria Ross, happy customers are an organization’s best friend. In the growth cycle, when organizations are starting up, their bid to draw customers and develop a reputation for excellent service is high.  Employees have a clear understanding that each customer interaction translates to the growth and sustainability of the organization. As such, concerted efforts are placed on ensuring the customer experience is seamless.
Fast forward into the next stage where the same organization transitions into a midsized business, well on its way to becoming a significant corporate. The general consensus from customers who started off with them is that the business has ‘forgotten’ those that supported them when they needed the support most. This is typical of corporates from both  manufacturing and service delivery, and unless a specific focus is placed on enhancing customer loyalty, the very tribe of rabid followers that served as evangelists, may very well convert into sources of damaging word of mouth reviews that could halt a business in it tracks.
How does a business then protect itself from slipping and forgetting the people that matter the most? How does a corporate avoid a decline in customer service when growth takes off?
Ultimately speaking – an organization is only as good as its employees. A culture of customer service excellence must be deliberately grown and maintained.  It is imperative that training, retraining, culture awareness programmes and inculcation of the organization’s vision, mission and values are conducted.
Loyal employees who have the organization’s values, aspirations, hopes and dreams deeply rooted, should be diffused to new branches, outlets and geographies to ensure standards and work ethic are upheld. This has the twofold benefit of creating new inspired team leaders as well maintaining brand standards.
Recently on a social media page with a membership of over ten thousand mothers, a disgruntled customer posted about the decline in customer service at a popular coffee house chain that has rapidly expanded with over 15 branches country wide. Needless to say the conversation thread was very long, with many unpleasant narrations. There general consensus was that people should patronize other brands.  This is the unfortunate folly of rapid expansion without a robust and dynamic customer service strategy.
It is acknowledged that indeed knowing every customer by name and having deep and close knit relationships would pose a challenge when the customer base grows significantly. However, the things that matter most including making them feel appreciated, rewarding loyalty, seeking feedback and responding to needs, are critical irrespective of organization size. Customers want consistency and predictability. They want to know that service levels will be the same consistently and consumers need to be engaged at all levels.
A case study in point is the Nakumatt supermarket chain. A business that is on record for rising from very humble beginnings to being a retail brand powerhouse. With over 40 branches, there is positive customer feedback about the quality and consistency of service. At the South C branch opened recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see staff from the older branch on Uhuru Highway, leading the teams and even more pleasantly surprised that a familiar face hailed me in greeting and requested for feedback on the new unit. Very impressive. So impressive is this chain’s focus on being in touch with the customer that they have launched a customer call center to attend to customer needs. Now that is a customer focused business from whom crucial lessons should be learned.

Today’s customers have very high expectations and the onus is on every organization to develop and maintain steps towards creating customer delight. There’s really no secret to customer service success. The answer’s pretty simple – Listen and Learn.