(Originally published April 29, 2013, in Capital, here.)
Because predictions are best left to economists and fools, once in a while I think it’s my turn.
So here it is: Exceptional (well, maybe just good) customer service will increasingly become recognized as the differentiating factor among companies fighting for success in Romania.
There. I said it. The recession did a lot of things. It continues to do a lot of things, both bad and good. On a micro level, it has made life even more difficult for too many people here. On a macro level, though, it has forced much-needed changes and raised overdue awareness of many basic truths for some in the business community.
Indeed, most companies here have increasingly been forced to look inside, though many don’t appear to have known what they were looking for. Many have reached the wrong conclusions and taken the wrong steps. But others, I predict, have learned lessons that we will see lead to improvements in the near future.
And the lesson is that customer service – the entire customer experience – is the next most-important differentiating factor that can mean either success or failure. Yes, even more than pricing, promotions, marketing and advertising.
Of course, pricing wars will continue. Expansions in new marketing channels will continue. Promotional rates and special offers will continue. Advertising will even rebound. But hopefully, and likely, the past few years have taught some businesses here a lesson – a lesson they were not forced to learn until the crisis arrived.
Because it’s been years since it was sufficient to provide an ever-increasing supply to an ever-increasing demand. It is no longer enough just to hire advertising, public relations and marketing firms to help companies spend money on brand name awareness and TV commercials, radio ads, billboards and signs.
Indeed, easy sales and easy money led to a distorted market that in many ways forgot the customer. And many markets here are still irrational, fed by friendships, “gifts” and other distorted arrrangements. But it’s no longer enough to sign backroom deals. Markets are solidifying. Competition is strong. Companies must be smarter. Advertising is no longer enough.
The fact is, for some time now, companies have been pushing advertising agencies to create “special projects” – which is merely a euphemism for saying find something else that works. The traditional method is saturated. A new solution must be found.
We’ve seen this in other countries. Shops are built. Stores hours are extended. Pricing battles are fought. Promotions and discounts attract shoppers’ attention. The differences blur in a haze.
What we need now is an advertising agency that has the wisdom and guts to tell its clients: “We cannot help you unless you fundamentally change the way you do business.” Instead of foolishly saving a few dollars, try making shoppers happy, hire some people and train them correctly. Redesign the shops. Answer your phones. Say “hello” and “thank you” when customers give you their money. And then perhaps some enterprising publication will launch a series of customer satisfaction surveys and begin to rank companies within the various industries.
Then my prediction will come true. And the attitude toward customers, customer service, the entire customer experience will lead to new success for those smart enough to embrace it.