Alan O'Neill's 8 Steps for Achieving Premium Customer Service

10 November 2017

Alan O'Neill, the man who can be credited for turning around Selfridges, has written about the importance of customer experience and brand culture for us, including his 8 top tips for achieving premium service.

Coming out of the downturn, we find that the world has changed in so many ways. In almost every sector, customers are more discerning… and their expectations have grown so much more. We find too that businesses trying to differentiate have to think differently. More and more, customers rate you on the overall experience that they have when they visit you.

I have been privileged to work with some amazing iconic brands in recent years and I have identified a common denominator with the most successful ones. They all prioritise customer experience  and have embedded that culture in their DNA. Their customers get a consistent level of great service across the property – every day. In my view, premium is the new black.

This is a model that I have introduced to them, and it will work for you too.

1. Vision and Culture

The starting point is to have a clear North Star for your business. What is your market positioning in contrast with your main competitors? Did you change as a result of the downturn? Your competitors are changing too – and they also know that premium is the new black. What’s the optimum position for you going forward? Think about your business answers to these questions.

2. Customer Service Definition

Customers make judgements on the overall experience that they have with you, based on your product, your people and your place. Take time to consider - what does 'good' look like for your business relative to your desired market positioning? Involve your teams in the exercise - you’ll get better answers and higher levels of engagement.

Alan O'Neill turned around Selfridges from a sleeping giant to the officially named 'Best Department Store In The World'

3. Training, Communications, Obstacles

Training on its own is not enough if you want to embed customer-centricity as a new culture. You need to almost over-communicate with your people to ensure they get it. Take time also to listen to them as they will tell you what obstacles are stopping them from giving great service every day.

4. Incentives and Consequences

Often referred to as the carrot and the stick, incentives and consequences play a part in keeping your new culture alive. Obviously, your people will respond better to positives, such as prizes, awards, and recognition. However, there should also be clear consequences for failing to do the right thing.

5. Managers as Role Models

I believe that front line managers have the most important role in any organisation. They are the buffer between the senior management and the teams. Often as player-managers, they need to role-model the kind of behaviours expected of the teams.

Front line managers need to be role models to the team

6. Monitor, Feedback

To ensure the standards are being maintained day in, day out. Managers should monitor both customer reactions to service levels closely and their own team’s behaviours. By so doing, they’ll be able to manage customers' expectations and give timely feedback to their teams.

7. Service Recovery

Even in the best organisations, things can go wrong. It’s impossible to get it right every single time and customers may complain. In most cases, customers are entirely reasonable – provided their issue is dealt with professionally and with courtesy. Most of the large organisations also log all complaints so that they can see trends over time – leading to appropriate corrective actions.

8. Measurement

Just as a thermometer monitors the temperature in a room and then regulates the heat according to your desired level, an effective customer service feedback programme will serve the same purpose and enable you to react accordingly.

Effective customer service should be measured

These steps will work for any organisation of any size. They are tried and tested with some of the world’s best. If you engage your teams along the way, you’ll get consistency and see your sales rise in line with your customer service levels.

For further information or to book a speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070  or email .

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