Is Customer Service (in Northern Ireland) Dead?

February 22, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Isn't it shocking the level of customer of service we typically receive from businesses here in Northern Ireland? Take the 'Home Improvement' market for example, more specifically the people out there offering their skilled services to assist you in your upgrades or repairs around your home. I think I've phoned roughly 4 local electricians, 5 Joiners, and 3 different gardeners to just get work done, only to be let down by most of them. Yet, it's only the older guys that seem to have shown up. That generation that knows what a hard days graft is all about. Those hardy few that will be there when they say they'll be there.

My late father was of that generation. A stereotypical man who just simply knew how to do EVERYTHING. Not only was he a dab hand around his own home, but he would be often called upon to help with other people's homes too. I remember he had a particular set of clothes he'd wear, worn jeans, checked cloth shirt, a trust pencil, and tape measure. I wish I was half as manually capable as he was, I'd be a lot less reliant on others to do what I need to do that's for sure!

To be fair, we do have an amazing plumber on hand. No hassle, no mess, straight and honest pricing. He did charge me for coming to turn my thermostat up once when the house wouldn't warm up, but we'll not go into that particular embarrassing story... I'll never forget the look he gave me, not my proudest moment.

My most recent exposure to the lackluster trades was when attempting to get our offices cleaned. A quick Google search for local commercial cleaning companies revealed that the choice was a little thin to say the least (an opportunity there if ever there was one), and set about arranging for a company to come and give us a quote for what we needed. A date was arranged (no specific time), and as per usual, a no show. No reason offered nor given. I did attempt to call this company back but was promptly sent to a residential home voice mail service. Having wasted a few days, I moved on to company number two listed. As before, a date was arranged, again, no time specified, and again... No show.

The next day an email was received to say they were sorry they didn't appear on the date they'd suggested. They then asked for me to give them an idea of what it was we wanted cleaning so they could give us a price, which sort of irked me a little; if I'm being honest. I refused to play and set about replying to their (Yahoo Domain) email address to tell them that it was unprofessional not to show up to a business appointment, and then ask the intended client what their needs where, when the whole point of the meeting was to discuss said needs, based on their experience of how long typically business premises of scale where I work would take to clean.

The email bounced.

That was okay (well, not professional obviously) but I knew it would be delivered, as my first attempt to contact them had bounced too, using the email on their published website listing. The business owner had contacted me based on that email inquiry at the time they suggested a date for coming to see us.

What also annoys me about companies with low customer service levels is the manner in which they answer their business phone, usually with a basic "Hello", like you've called them at home and you've interrupted them. Wouldn't it be better to announce who you are and who you represent if you're taking business calls? Am I being too picky on this?

Can you imagine a Hotel Receptionist picking up the phone with "Hello"?

It just gives off a more professional feel when you answer the phone in a professional manner, which these two previous business owners fail to comprehend.

A vacuum cleaner on a carpet.Vacuum CleanerA demonstration of how hard it is to get anything done in Northern Ireland.


This leads me on to cleaning company number three.

The telephone was answered in a professional and courteous manner, a brief Q&A on who we were, where we were, and what we were after, and a date was set for them to come and see us, with a time! Imagine, making an appointment at a time! I knew then we were on to a winner.

Sure enough, (nearly) on time (it's a tough place to get parked where I work) the arrived, gave us a great breakdown of their services and what they were offering and a contract was agreed, there and then.

I've worked in sales for getting on for 32 years (I started when I was 13, do the math) and I've some simple strategies that will get your business further ahead than any amateur turning his hand at something will never grasp.

  • Smile

    • Simple right? You'd think it would be, but look at some of the waiting staff in our restaurants, you'd swear they were hostages. The same goes with shop staff, would it kill you to look up and smile?
    • Smile when you're answering the phone! It actually has an impact on how you speak to someone, especially when that person is wanting to give you money for your skills/services.
  • Telephone Manner

    • Confirm that I've actually called the right number by telling me who you are and who you work for. Even if you're the boss, let me know. For example "Hello, this is john here for Acme Cleaning Company, how can I help you?" (whilst smiling). If you're busy, our out at another job, always be prepared to write stuff down, so have a pen and notebook with you, better still a pen and diary so you set appointments and you'll know where you have to be, and when. Don't rush to answer the phone, be prepared before you pick up first.
    • Ask questions, show that you're listening. It demonstrates that you know what you're doing, even if the caller thinks they know what they want, offer your advice if you know of a better idea, and justify it with a story of why. Stories really help customers understand more easily.
  • Be On Time

    • If you've agreed a date and time, be there. Call ahead to confirm that the caller is still going to be there (they might have forgotten), that way if you run into traffic or can't get parked, at least they know you're still coming. If you're really struggling with punctuality then I'd say definitely call again, and see if they're still okay to wait.
  • Be Professional

    • I'm sure you can stand by your work, otherwise, you won't be in business too long, but go that extra step if you can. It's that little bit extra that customers will remember, it will also set you apart from your competition. Always be professional while you're a doing it.
    • Be honest about your costs. An honest price will see you get more customers through word of mouth, which is the ultimate compliment for any business owner. I'm not saying doing a job cheap, as it will undervalue your services, I'm saying sit down and work out all your business costs and then add what you need to make a living and charge accordingly. If you do it too cheaply, you'll be out of business before you realise what went wrong.

There are plenty of other 'tips' I could throw in there, but I would say those four are the basics. It's what I've built my photography business on (that and my other unique selling points, which I'll not share here), you'll see the feedback I get on my Guestbook Page (check it out if you haven't already done so), it's a testimony to the relationship I have with my clients.

It would be nice, just for a change, for business owners, restaurant managers, retail managers and anyone else out there just trying to do a good job, to take on board some of these basic elements of customer service, we'd then find we have a better experience as customers, and they'd have a better return on their profits from repeat and word of mouth referrals.


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