How marrying a Canadian improved my customer service

By Nigel Gordijk.

It's about time that we Brits learned how to complain.

One unforeseen (and with hindsight, welcome) side-effect of marrying a Canuck was that it encouraged me to leave my comfort zone by questioning many of the things I had taken for granted. When my wife and stepdaughter moved to England to join me, it resulted in me sharing my home with two tourists. And, like all tourists, they both viewed the world around them with fresh eyes.

In the first few months of living together in the UK I infuriated Cheryl by answering her frequently-asked question "Why do you guys do things this way?" with the reply, "Because that's the way we've always done it!" The correct response was, and still is, "Because no-one's thought of another way."

Likewise, now that we're back on the other side of the Pond there are differences in how people conduct business and interact with customers that I can only regard with envy.

There are two reasons why so many consumers receive poor customer service and why many service providers offer second-rate products.

  • As consumers, we Brits don't know how to complain. We accept substandard service whilst we bitch and moan about it. But do we complain to someone who can actually make changes? More often than not, we have a rant and then let it pass. Why else would we settle for banks telling us that it'll take five days to clear a cheque?
  • As suppliers, we simply do not ask for feedback from our customers. How do we know if the service we're providing is adequate if we don't ask? Waiting for a complaint may be futile. Dissatisfied clients will simply take their business to someone who will give them what they want.

(There is a third reason: Old World arrogance. We don't seem to take kindly to being told by colonial upstarts how to do things better.)

As customers, if we don't learn how to give feedback then we'll continue to receive the service that we deserve. And if we're serious about improving the quality of our product then we need to find out from customers what they think of us. Ask relevant questions: Are expectations of service met? Does the service represent good value for money?

Make the feedback process easy and quick. When I complete a project I email the client asking for their comments. The email contains a link to an online multiple choice form. Doing this serves two purposes: It shows that I value their opinion and also that I don't take their business for granted.

I never bothered to seek clients' feedback until a Canadian opened my eyes to the mediocre service I'd been receiving for years from other people. I decided not to be so tolerant - and resolved to find out how my clients rate my service to them.

So be brave - ask difficult questions to which you may not like the answers. It's the first step to improving the service you provide.