I was chatting to my colleague Frank Dunsmuir late last week (he looks after the Retail arm of the Commercial Sector for me here at Xansa), and he mentioned the Retail Week Conference he’d been to.
The theme was around the need for retailers to differentiate themselves in order to win customers, with the catchy title ‘daring to be different’ as the banner headline for the main conference debate. The panel leading the discussion comprised the great and the good from retail: Lord Kirkham (no relation), Chairman of DFS; Philip Green, owner of BHS and Arcadia; and Terry Duddy, CEO of the Argos Retail Group.
Lord Kirkham’s take on the topic was fairly unequivocal: “Differentiating to win? What a load of c**p! It’s about running a first class business - getting the basics right – understanding your customers, flawless customer service, employing the best people, motivating them and training them.” Green and Duddy both agreed with this.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, customer service is a particular ‘soap-box’ item for me. I personally don’t bother going back to stores (or websites) where I have a poor service experience, and I return time and again to those where I do. In fact, I still remember examples of superior customer service and still recite them to anyone who’ll listen.
My favourite happened some ten years ago (and I still talk about it) when I was on secondment in Abu Dhabi, running KPMG’s management consulting business in the Lower Gulf. I was flying back from a business meeting in Mumbai (then Bombay) to Abu Dhabi with Gulf Air, and the flight was a two leg journey - Mumbai to Muscat, Oman, for the first leg, a three-hour stopover, then on from Muscat to Abu Dhabi.
Travelling Business Class, I was fortunate to get upgraded to First and settled in to my seat to be presented with the usual orange juice and iced towel. Gulf Air First had the usual ‘video library’ where you could choose from a menu of films. As it was a late flight, I chose something pretty easy to wile away the journey – the under-rated ‘Get Shorty’ (DeVito, Travolta, Russo, Hackman). The problem was that the first leg of the flight was only a couple of hours, and by the time we were approaching Muscat and the entertainment system had been turned off, I still had about 30 minutes of the film left to watch. The stewardess apologised that I hadn’t been able to see it all and I made a joke out of it and told her not to worry.
Some three hours later, having landed, spent some money in Muscat Duty Free, had a coffee, read a book, I finally boarded the next plane for the Muscat to Abu Dhabi leg. (Bear in mind this was a different plane, with a different crew.) As I was settling in to my seat, the stewardess came over to me with the orange juice and iced-towel, but this time with a copy of Get Shorty and the words “I understand you didn’t get the chance to see the ending Mr Kirkham”. Now THAT’S customer service.
Not only do I remember that experience, it also prompted me to fly with Gulf Air whenever I could. It was a little thing, but it had a massive impact. When you analyse how poor many retail experiences that you have day in and day out actually are, it’s a wonder that many stores are still open. There’s a similar parallel to our own outsourcing and technology industry – how do we differentiate ourselves?
At Xansa, we are being challenged from all sides – from the big global players to the small niche and offshore ones. So what differentiates us? We can all tell a compelling story about capability and track record and about managing risks and delivering end results.
The answer we hear often from our clients centres around our people and our culture. We have the right people, and we have the right focus - we are ‘easy to deal with’, yet have the scale to deliver for our biggest clients. It also comes down to commercial innovation and flexibility – delivering outcomes within a commercial structure that motivates both sides to do the right thing – not to bid low to win the work and then change-control everything that moves. There are enough examples out in the market where this approach just serves to hack off the client.
So it’s about setting the right ‘partnership’ model in place, understanding the business goals from both sides, being easy and fair to work with, and of course, focusing on supreme customer service - the Gulf Air story.