John Lewis Customer Service: Putting your own People First

Andrew McMillan headed the John Lewis Intelligence Team, with responsibility for customer service and analysis of demographic trends. He is now JLA’s most popular speaker on creating a culture in which the customer relationship can flourish. We asked Andrew to distill his experience into simple, practical advice…

 

What’s the secret of customer service?

Customer service tends to reflect an organisation’s internal culture, so treat staff as you would like your customers to be treated. You can’t just teach it and stick it on the outside of an unhappy organisation.

 

Can big businesses learn from SMEs?

Many large companies still need to learn what small businesses have always known: your people are your prime asset. After all, why do we always return to the same hairdresser? It’s usually less to do with price, and everything to do with the power of personal relationships.

 

What about the power of social networking?

Social networking is moving the control of brands from owner to customer. Type your business into Google followed by ‘complaint’ or ‘review’, and you will see who has the power over reputation.

 

Is it possible to transform your reputation?

Improving unfriendly processes will make your business more attractive, but that alone won’t bring loyalty and advocacy. Only a consistently engaging experience will lead to customers identifying you as special and different.

 

So how do you motivate staff if pay rises are not an option?

Most people would say that security and working for an organisation that treats its employees as assets is far more motivating than a minimal pay rise.

 

What did recession teach us about consumer behaviour?

I think it taught many businesses not to try to be all things to all people. You need to come up with a compelling proposition for your target customers and aim to win on perceived value.

 

With more cuts coming, can the public sector learn from business?

Huge effort is still being focused on activity that brings very little return. Instead of across-the-board cuts, changes in process could enable many public services to be maintained, or even improved, at lower cost. (Having said that, business can learn more from the public sector than they might choose to believe.)

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