There are clear benefits of having an effective customer care programme. Mere acceptance of this is not sufficient to ensure effective customer care. A series of practical steps must be implemented in establishing effective programmes. The main steps in this process are in:
Incorporating a customer care philosophy into company mission statements
The first and most important step in establishing a customer care programme is to ensure that a commitment to customer care is enshrined in the corporate mission statement. By so doing a company has taken the first step in a commitment to customer care. Moreover, being the mission statement, this commitment can be seen to come from the top. This should serve to form and guide a customer care culture and philosophy throughout the organization
Establishing a customer care culture and philosophy
Effective customer care is not something that can be left solely to marketing and sales departments. Customer care is everyone’s business. In the same way as the adoption of the marketing concept necessitates a cultural change within many organizations, so too does the adoption of the customer care concept. However, instilling this philosophy is not easy. As with the marketing concept, customer care is often seen as being someone else’s responsibility. Adopting a customer care philosophy starts at the top and must have the full support and commitment of senior management. The importance of customer care must be ‘marketed’ throughout the organization. This is part of the process of ‘internal marketing’. Individuals and functions in the organization must be persuaded and shown how their activities relate to overall levels of customer care and the impact they can have on this area. Implementing this philosophy throughout an organization requires that people’s tasks, activities, responsibilities and even promotion and remuneration are linked to customer care. Customer care responsibilities are part of everyone’s job in the organization.
Needless to say, the marketing function has a primary role to play in this process; in particular the marketer or marketing function should be responsible for providing up-to-date and reliable information about what it is that customers want with regard to customer care, how various activities in the organization contribute or otherwise to the satisfaction of customer needs and any problems or shortcomings in this respect. The marketer must also ensure that track is kept of competitor levels of customer care and any trends in these levels.
Identifying customer needs and perceptions
As with all marketing programmes, the start point of effective customer care is the identification of customer needs. Customer care is about ensuring these needs are met and in particular that customer expectations are fulfilled or exceeded. Many companies still do not appreciate what their customers’ needs and expectations are with regard to various facets of the transaction process. For example, most new car customers want a full tank of fuel when they collect their new cars. In spite of this, even some of the most expensive new cars have only enough fuel in them to reach the first filling station.
As mentioned already, customers are often reluctant to complain, and in any event if the customer does complain it is already too late. The marketer must therefore research customer needs to establish precisely what constitutes customer satisfaction and the customer expectations with regard to the various facets of the transaction process. The marketer must also at this stage consider perceptions that customers have with regard to the company and its standards of customer care. Focus group interviews with both potential and existing customers can be useful.
Customers are often more willing to reveal their true needs or, in the case of existing customers, feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in a group setting. Many companies use follow up phone calls or mailed questionnaires to check on customer satisfaction. For example, ‘Home Care’, an insurance product for householders covering plumbing repairs, kitchen appliance breakdowns, etc., regularly contact a sample of customers who have had a call-out to check levels of service and customer satisfaction. As with all marketing the marketer must be careful not to assume he/she knows what the customers needs are.
Establishing customer care standards and specifications
This step in the process involves the company establishing specific levels for customer care and the key activities and processes to be included.
These must relate to customers’ expectations and needs established in the first step. For example, we need to establish delivery standards, standards for customer responsiveness, courtesy and credibility and product quality. Every facet of the company that may impinge on customer satisfaction needs to be incorporated here; not just marketing activities. Specific standards for customer care that can be measured and evaluated need to be established at this stage. Although customer care programmes should meet the highest level of standards in line with customer expectations, it is important to establish a basic minimum level below which levels of customer care should not drop under any circumstances. Again, regular surveys and feedback from customers are essential. Consumer panels which allow for such regular feedback from customers are useful. In addition, the marketer should consult dealers and other intermediaries on a regular basis for their views.
Specifying jobs and activities
Related to required standards and specifications for customer care there needs to be detailed specifications of what this means for people’s activities and jobs within the organization. It should include, for example, the designation of tasks and activities, allocation of responsibilities, motivation and monitoring and control systems necessary to successfully implement customer care and the information systems required to facilitate effective customer care programmes.
Ensuring adequate systems for monitoring and evaluating levels of customer care
It is important that effective systems are established for measuring and evaluating standards of customer care including tracking and monitoring systems, market research and customer evaluation procedures. Clear systems and procedures for ensuring effective responses to problems with customer care levels, including complaints are necessary. These are the practical steps in implementing customer care programmes, but effective customer care also requires an organization-wide commitment. In this respect it is important to stress that this is not just a marketing department responsibility and activity. The importance of customer care and an acceptance of this importance throughout every level and function of the organization is a critical issue. Customer care must be part of overall corporate culture. Moreover, it should impinge on every facet of the marketing programme. It is to these two aspects of implementing customer care programmes that we now turn our attention.
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Marketing Management Tutorial
Development Of A Strategic Approach To Marketing: Its Culture; Internal Macro- And External Micro-environmental Issues
Markets And Customers: Consumer And Organizational Buyer Behaviour And Marketing Strategy
Markets And Customers: Market Boundaries; Target Marketing
Product And Innovation Strategies
Channels Of Distribution And Logistics
Customer Care And Relationship Marketing
Marketing Information Systems And Research
Analysing The Environment: (opportunities And Threats) And Appraising Resources (strengths And Weaknesses)
Evaluating And Controlling Strategic Marketing
Strategic Marketing Planning Tools
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