Service – The Real USP

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Thanks to all who attended

Anthony Brown, BW: Workplace Experts / Stuart Oldridge , TTSP / Andrew Bartlett, Harmsen Tilney Shane / Tony Taylor, British Ceramic Tile / Jerry Woodcock, Woodalls Design / Nathan Lonsdale, Spacelab / Catherine van der Heide, HASSELL / Mark Ashford, COMO

There are few companies who have such a dominant market position that good customer service doesn’t matter. Most would agree that, even then, no organisation with any sense in this day and age would put good customer service low on their list of priorities. Historically, some organisations have had a very high level of service as part of their DNA, but most haven’t. Until two things radically changed the business context – the fiscal crisis, which created a whole new focus on the key business success factors, and the advent of disruptive technology, allowing these newer companies to take on once dominant players in a nimble and customer focused manner. Here’s a summary of the long and considered discussion which took place around the table.

We all know, in the world of interior design, that great customer service should be the norm. We also know, however, that it is often not.

Our latest roundtable shines the light on the levels of service clients are expecting. We start by suggesting that businesses – and their expectations –have changed significantly since the economic downturn in 2008.

Nathan: Certainly everyone wants more ‘bang for their buck’. Client expectations are higher than ever. I do think that, since the recession, the world has got faster and technology has overtaken our process. I think the construction process is actually quite archaic. It has to change – but the question is how do we do that?

Catherine: I think value is something that all clients are after – they’re under interrogation as well!

Mark: Aren’t we now also in a culture where people are a lot quicker to criticise and a lot slower to praise? You can do 20 things right and then the 21st thing you get wrong and – ‘bang’.

Tony: You are also making those mistakes in public nowadays – with social media etc. You make a mistake and it’s ‘out there’.

Round Table 10..8.17-24

Thom: There are certainly now more platforms to be able to put forward whether you are happy or unhappy with service. υ Like  Tony said, social media has made it easier to publicly announce whether you are unhappy with someone’s level of service. It’s almost become a new battleground for brands – it’s not just about the price or product any more – it’s about delivery of service. I think the recession was a driver for people to start demanding more.

Anthony: I think that the economy really just capitalised on something that was already happening on a much wider scale. The Internet created a situation where the community that you’re in is so much wider than it was in the days when you shared your experiences with friends and colleagues. Now we’re aware of experience on such a grand scale – and I think that has probably had more of an affect on people’s expectation levels of service than economic drivers.

Mark: Also, because there wasn’t as much business around, people were getting offered more for the same money at that point. That level of expectation has receded.

Nathan: People do want more for their money – they demand more for their money.

Tony: Big, big businesses started to pick up adjacent business – they basically started to consolidate markets.

Anthony: The other thing was the rise of the procurement department. Whereas they did have a much smaller role pre-2008, they were suddenly the people making all the decisions on every major project.

Round Table 10..8.17-14

Mark: There are so many new businesses and start-ups. When I came into this industry most of the companies in London were very old and established. Now, a lot of new businesses, who weren’t around 30 years ago, have become incredibly successful – and they have brought their own rules and new methods. These are now being adopted by more traditional businesses. There’s certainly greater transparency – just look at HMRC. It’s a really open process and everyone knows what’s going on. That’s changed a lot and I think a lot of that has come from these new businesses.

Andrew: The way that we do the job has changed as well. One of the real impacts of the recession is that the pressure has come not just on us but everyone else involved as well. As designers, we don’t just have an ultimate person to satisfy – there is a whole team of project managers, who have an equal burden of work, and they are keen to offload as much of that as they can on designers. As a consequence, we are absorbing more and more of that as well.

Nathan: And we just don’t have the time to do these things. Our time is getting squeezed because people are producing things faster and faster. As soon as you start to squeeze the time, there can be major issues and impact on money, on quality, on how the client is serviced.

Catherine: I worked in Singapore – and things happen fast there and there is a high level of expectation. They do have bigger teams and a different labour market. I think the people factor there is quite interesting.

The recession made knowledge workers become knowledge leaders – brought them to the forefront. The impact was that clients then wanted to attract these people. I do think that design and value can go together.

Round Table 10..8.17-41

Stuart: It is going to be interesting to see what happens. A lot of our clients are talking about the ‘war on talent’ – how do they attract the right people into their business and then how do they make sure they keep those people? Our response is to talk about the quality of space – what we are providing for them? It will be interesting to see if those clients extend that warm embrace to the consultant teams. It will be interesting to see whether they ask if we’d like more time to think about what we are providing, what we are creating for them – rather than just saying ‘Can’t you just press a button?’ and expecting something to come out at the other end!

Nathan: Shouldn’t we be thinking about changing our process? Everything we produce now is actually for a contractor or a consultant, not the client – 2D drawings purely for a contractor to deliver. We need to get more up-to-date. We need to use technology more – to deliver a process rather than this archaic system. Client first, contractor second – the experience should drive it, not the process.

Mark: I honestly don’t believe there is any industry that, as a whole industry, has a high level of customer service any more. I think a lot of this is to do with the culture we now have and the speed at which everyone wants things done. Value often overrides quality – and it must be quicker.

Anthony: It should all be about the experience.

Nathan: It should be about feeling – people are much more connected with their emotions. More than they’ve ever been. It’s important that people are more aware of themselves – and therefore they should be looking for far more than just being on time and on budget.

Mark: Someone once said to me that people will not necessarily always remember what you did, they might not remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel – that really resonated with me.

Tony: It’s an absolute slam-dunk for us if we can get people to come to the factory. They come down to Devon – and they get it. It’s a great, immersive experience.

Andrew: A great experience can definitely change a client’s mind.

Catherine: I also think there’s nothing wrong with us enjoying the process as much as our clients. It should be about collaboration and relationships.

Jerry: We should take the time to develop and build those relationships. That’s how you understand who you’re working with. It’s sometimes not that easy to get the time out of your client – but I think you do need to show them how important it is that they do put that time in.

CONCLUSION
Time is definitely not on our side when it comes to creating a great customer experience. Either we are too busy reacting to the demands of clients, or the clients themselves do not grant us the time we wish we could have with them. Smart businesses are finding ways around this however, developing personalised, intelligent customer experiences by tapping into the emotional side of their business and focusing on developing strong client relationships.

Round Table 10..8.17-23