We all know as business owners how difficult it is to land gold standard clients, we also know how easy it is to lose them.
This is why an effective system of customer care is vital for all customer-serving enterprises, including language service providers.
In its simplest form, customer care means listening to your customers and responding appropriately.
Your customers are talking to you all the time, either through formal channels, like meetings, or informal channels, like phone calls, texts, emails, or a chat over a coffee.
With so much communication happening every day, you would think that listening to your customers should be easy, but it isn’t.
If you are an owner or an executive, it’s hard to know what your customers are actually saying to your people and if it’s been understood and the right people are getting involved in responding to it and whether it’s being acted upon and not forgotten.
According to Paul Doherty, a successful system of customer care has three things; people, process and technology.
Paul has had a long and successful career in the localization industry, was the founder of two LSPs, and has served as country manager for Berlitz, Bowne and Lionbridge. Paul has led European sales for Lionbridge and SDL and has worked as a strategic consultant to Moravia. He is currently a director at Strategy Management Consultants Ltd, helping companies to implement transformative change.
Paul began implementing a customer care system more than 20 years ago while director of Multilingual Technology Ltd (MTL), which was subsequently acquired by Berlitz.
“While at MTL, I had an office with glass walls with an open door and an open-door policy. So it was my job to be disturbed,” Paul says.
“But even then, I wasn’t finding out about customer complaints until I was getting the hairdryer treatment down the telephone and it was too late to do anything about it.
“So I had enough and I just said, I want to be amongst the first people to know. As soon as there’s bad news, a complaint or a threat, I want to know instantly.
“This was 20 years ago. It started off with an access database and it became a secret server database.
“People could put in the customers’ complaints with a brief description of the complaint. That’s all. And that generated an email which I got it instantly.”
While the process and technology may have been simple, the third piece of the puzzle was the people using it.
“The system was quite simple, but what wasn’t so simple was the cultural resistance,” Paul says.
“People don’t like bringing bad news. So if a project manager or a salesperson got a customer complaint, maybe they were scared of getting into trouble or they thought, hey, I’m resourceful, I can fix this myself.
“So I had a very clear message. If you put the complaint in the database, you’ll be forgiven everything. The only thing I won’t forgive is not putting it in the database.
“That worked really, really well. I was finding out instantly, early on what the problem was, and I was able to get involved.
“And if it wasn’t done within a certain number of days, a red flag report was sent to me, saying, hey, this complaint hasn’t been dealt with. So if there’s no corrective action, or if corrective action has been done, but there’s no preventative action. I get another red flag.
“So as that developed our people said, Why just negative things? Why not compliments? So a customer comes and said, great job. What was it about the job that was great? So let’s then share that with the rest of the team so they can update their processes.
“And then we start to say, well, why wait for the customer to tell us there’s a problem? Why don’t we ask our people to make suggestions? They’re looking at a process and say, I think this could be done better. So now we had the suggestion scheme.”
One of the biggest benefits to Paul’s system of customer care was the shift in mindset that it encouraged amongst his team.
“If you’re told that you have to document customer interactions and you have to put it on a database as either a complaint, a compliment, an opportunity, or a threat, that gets people thinking,” Paul said.
“What came out of that meeting? Was it good news? Was it bad news? Was it potential future good news or potential future bad news? That gets people thinking.”
While documenting complaints and performing corrective action is important, Paul also emphasises the importance of analysing why the problems occurred and following up with customers to let them know you are going to act on what they told you.
Most businesses will have processes in place to manage customer care, but Paul believes they are only scratching the surface of what should be done.
“I think people will say, we’ve got a system and we’re great at handling customer care, and I would say, show me the evidence. Very few people can.
“Here’s one example of what I’m talking about – customer satisfaction surveys. How many people do them?
“Well, quite a few can point to an annual customer satisfaction survey, but can you say what you did with that? What analysis and recommendations came out of that survey? And it’ll be a smaller number.
“And then can you show me the plan to implement the recommendations that come out of the analysis? That’s an even smaller number.
“Can you then show me how you communicated that to your customer and made a commitment that you’re going to act on what they told you – an even smaller number again.
“So people say, hey, we have this process or that process, but when you look at it, you’ll find it’s very threadbare.
“But the system that I’ve implemented in the past, that I would recommend, is not threadbare and you can audit the hell out of it.”
If you want to know more about this area, visit Lion People Global’s website where you can watch back our LT Talks series of videos where we have talked to some of the industry leaders in localization for their insights into the world of translation.