Note: this is the final instalment in a series of three articles.

Customer service in the public sector.

Whether you’re providing public services, or selling t-shirts online, customer service is crucial.

Without it, you’re on borrowed time.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of managing and meeting customer expectations.

Last month, I wrote about making sure employees understand those expectations, and how they can help meet them.

This month, I want to talk about the customer side of the bargain. The things that organisations need from their customers to deliver the experience they’ve committed to.

 

more than money

Think about the last time you bought something. It wasn’t just money that changed hands.

You were polite (hopefully). You were clear about what you wanted. Maybe you provided information – like a delivery address or sales feedback.

The fact is, there were lots of things that formed part of the transaction.

Now some of this stuff is instinctive. Consumers know they have to play their part if they want a good experience.

But sometimes they need a prompt, and you have to help customers be good customers. You have to help them to help you.

So what do customers need to do to keep their end of the bargain?

Some thoughts.

 

1. use services responsibly

Here’s an example. As a council, we provide a recycling service.

We ask residents to put the right materials in their recycling bins or boxes, and not to mix them up with things we can’t recycle.

When it comes to ‘bin day’, if we find things we can’t accept in recycling bins, we may have to leave them there – for the householder to deal with.

It’s a simplistic example, but the principle rings true for many supply-and-demand relationships.

People that only use a product or service for its intended purpose, tend to have a better customer experience.

 

2. be civil

People get frustrated. I get that. But occasionally it boils over, and every now and then, a customer can become aggressive. Even threatening.

We don’t tolerate abuse towards staff. No employer should.

But we don’t tolerate abuse of customers by employees either.

Being civil is an important part of the customer contract – from both sides of the table.

 

3. provide constructive feedback (so we can make it better)

The key to making a product or service better, is to understand how customers feel about it.

Now I’m the first to admit that – as a consumer – requests for feedback from product and service-providers can be annoying. If I’m not happy, I’ll let them know.

Or will I?

How many times have you bought something and – while not disappointed enough to complain – still walked away feeling less than impressed? And as a result, unlikely to buy again?

We always welcome constructive feedback on our services at Wrexham Council. And to some extent, it’s our customers’ duty to let us know when something isn’t right.

If we don’t know, how are we going to fix it?

And on the flip-side, we need to know when things are good too. Compliments are just as useful as complaints.

 

4. give new things a chance

Things change. The trouble is, nobody likes change – until they try it. Then they like it. And don’t want it to change.

Organisations change the way they deliver services for all kinds of reasons. New technology, market forces, the need to reduce costs, increase customers, and so on.

It doesn’t always improve the customer experience, but – quite often – it does.

And in the long-term, if customers point-blank refuse any evolution in product or service, they usually end up receiving a weaker product or service.

To some extent, customers have to be open-minded and give change a chance before making an informed judgement.

 

5. provide information

Like I said earlier, a transaction usually involves more than an exchange of money. It involves an exchange of information.

A lot of services we provide at Wrexham Council depend on customers giving us the information we need, when we need it and in the right format.

Providing the right information is an important part of the customer side of the deal. If you provide poor information, you’ll probably have a poor customer experience.

 

Of course, it’s down to product and service providers – from local councils to online t-shirt sellers – to help customers keep their side of the bargain.

If you need information, make it easy for customers to provide it.

If you don’t want them to abuse your product or service, explain what it’s intended for. Don’t just assume that people will know.

Well. I hope you’ve enjoyed my ‘customer contract’ articles, and found one or two useful ideas.

I’ll be writing about other customer-service topics later this year.