An Expert Eye for Customer Service: Interview with Helen Pettifer

Aleksandar IlicJuly 4, 201811min2
An interview with a customer service expert who is passionate about all aspects of Customer Service. Training provider, Customer Service consultant and public speaker.

Helen Pettifer  Helen Pettifer was a judge at UK Complaints Handling Awards 2018, and we’ve got the privilege to have a chat with her and ask a few questions.

What led you to set up your own customer service consultancy?

I relocated from Kent to Buckinghamshire in August 2016 and made the decision to work for myself.

In Kent, I worked as a Customer Service Manager in the security industry and knew I had a passion for Customer Service and a skill in training and motivating others.

I am a huge advocate for strong communication and helping others so what better way to channel these values than through Customer Service.

Customer Service is sometimes a misunderstood concept, so my aim is to raise awareness and equip businesses and individuals with the skills and tools they need to make a difference to their customers.

Customer Service is quite simply common sense and common manners but not always common practice!

As a customer service trainer, what are the frequent mistakes businesses don’t realise they are making when handling customers.

I have compiled a brochure of the seven key mistakes I see businesses making on a regular basis.

These are:

  1. Underestimating the power of Customer Service
  2. Lengthy and ineffective complaint handling
  3. Not listening to customers
  4. Over-promising and under-delivering
  5. Only training customer-facing staff
  6. Not being solution-focused
  7. Never following up

For me, I believe the 2 main mistakes businesses make are:

#1 Taking customers for granted

As a customer, I often feel my custom is taking for granted. There can be a certain level of apathy from employees and indeed organisations, when it comes to making customers feel valued.

Customers today have a wealth of choices when it comes to purchasing – products, services, companies, prices, time-frames to name a few.

So, in fact, the phrase “The Customer is King” has never been so profound. Customers choose the company in today’s business market, not the other way around.

Therefore, customers need to be treated as King, and, as I see it, many companies still need to grasp this concept.

When working with businesses I always ask the question – “Who is paying your wages?”

Very rarely is the answer “The customer”. Proves my point!

#2 Not providing their staff with the training and tools they need to deliver exceptional customer care.

The primary reason I set up my business is to give individuals the skills and techniques to successfully interact with customers, and colleagues, in turn helping their businesses grow and prosper.

I see many businesses employ staff and assume they know how to deliver Customer Service.

When, in fact, they lack the knowledge, techniques, and confidence to deliver an excellent experience to customers.

Also, many companies don’t appreciate the importance of business documents – operations manuals, job descriptions, returns policies, complaints procedure – all fundamental tools to assist employees to successfully carry out their jobs.

Giving employees all the tools and training they need makes a dramatic difference to the individual’s confidence levels, which in turn helps them take control of any situation they face with customers.

Is it possible to recover from a series of bad complaints? How can the damage be minimised?

I think recovery depends on the company involved, the scope of the complaints and how much the customer is happy to forgive and forget.

Over the years we have seen many organisation’s reputations damaged by PR scandals.

Just last year, United Airlines were in the news with the infamous physical removal of a passenger. Although their reputation was damaged short-term and there have been several other CS incidents since they are still in business and more than 148 million customers flew with them in 2017.

Many customers do return to companies that have let them down in the past, but this may be purely down to cost, location, required product/service not available elsewhere, timescales and legal obligations.

Damage limitation can be achieved by communicating directly with the customer and the public, being open and honest about what has occurred right from the outset, accepting responsibility, and collaborating with the customer to find an acceptable resolution.

It’s important that organisations monitor and manage social media and news coverage in a professional and responsible manner, without any knee-jerk reactions and responses. Being consistent in responses and updates helps to maintain a level of trust.

How many times have we seen companies change their stories, viewpoints and resolutions throughout a complaint or scandal? It loses trust and credibility.

Sincere and authentic apologies should be made by the organisation, ideally by the Managing Director, CEO, or another senior executive.

What are some of the most common complaints faced by businesses today, and can the problem be solved before arising?

Poor communication and lack of the personal touch.

I am passionate about communication and the way we interact with each other. So passionate in fact, that I’m writing a book about an experience I had as a customer and the lack of communication from the sales assistant.

As mentioned previously, customers want to feel valued and when they are met by rude staff, they’re not listened to and not given information they will quite rightly raise a complaint.

Training staff on communication, Emotional Intelligence, and general manners go a long way to resolve this.

Treating people how they wish to be treated, taking time to listen and understand what the customer needs, smiling and giving good eye contact, a warm friendly greeting are a few examples of customer’s expectations and cost the company nothing to deliver.

I’ve written a blog on communicating with confidence

Not keeping promises

Over-promising and under-delivering is a major cause for complaints.

Customers buy with both their head and heart, and expectations play a vital role within Customer Service experiences. Customers have expectations based on the information they have about the company and/or the product. Companies make promises on their websites, on social media, in their marketing material and when they sell to the customer. When these promises are not kept customers feel aggrieved, frustrated, angry and resentful.

Setting and keeping realistic, achievable promises helps manage both the customers and the company’s expectations. Communicating quickly, efficiently, and honestly when things do go wrong helps to maintain the customer relationship.

I have written a blog on keeping your promises.

How is technology advancing to aid customer service?

The way customers shop has certainly changed over the years with the advancement of technology.

Many supermarket shoppers are happy to use the self-service checkouts if they only a few items and limited time. This certainly aids Customer Service for customer expectation and satisfaction, although for me personally, I still like to be served by a sales assistant and receive that personal connection.

A few months ago, I was in Milton Keynes, and I spotted a little robot on wheels travelling on the pavement. It turned out to be a self-driving pod delivering takeaways. It’s a clever concept, whereby the customer orders their meal, the robot pod is loaded and locked at the restaurant, the customer receives the unlock code by text and the robot follows the quickest route by sat nav and makes its way to the customers through the streets. A far quicker way and a more efficient way to make deliveries, however again you are missing the personal interaction.

I understand how technology can aid and improve Customer Service in many situations, however, there will always be times when systems crash, glitches happen, and technology fails.

And it’s at those times that humans will intervene, calm the customer, and resolve any issues that arise.

I believe technology has its place working alongside people to create a holistic Customer Service experience of speed, efficient, cost-effective service with the personal human interaction.

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Aleksandar Ilic


  • Delores Airey

    July 10, 2018 at 11:46 am

    Companies train front-facing staff for a reason and fail to train customer service staff for a reason. This is not an accident. Customers tend not to be respected after the spend and/or provision of their personal data. When a customer purchases a product, say, an electrical item that comes with a manual, trouble-shooting would be featured and located towards the end (on-line) or the back pages of the manual. This proves that items can malfunction and that things can go wrong. The manual script presents a series of suggestions on how to put things right or, if all else fails, instructions on how to return the item to the retailer or wherever directed. Unfortunately, companies receive complaints about issues that are common and yet repeated. It is evident, that nothing at all is done to alleviate the issues and, in a way to allay worries and concerns for the customer who is sometimes treated with disdain by complaints handlers who are difficult to track, trace and identify due to the systems that are in place that were designed by companies. These are not mistakes.

    Consumer Welfare is very important and the experience of the gentleman who suffered at the hands of the airline proved that we are living in times where people just simply forget and continue to use the services of the offending companies hence why companies and their brand are economically affected only for a very short while by the media.

    All companies should treat their customers, (who are individual people) with respect, yet not all do. Companies have accountabilities and responsibilities towards their customers. Companies are almost behaving as though without their being in business customers would not survive very easily and that they need them. Unfortunately, people are afraid of big organisations especially when they are not able to get their calls answered when they are attempting to contact the customer service department to complain or even to inform the customer service employee of an issue which would benefit the company and, in turn, its consumers. When the call is eventually answered, the complaints handlers can, at times, deliver their non-customer-centric behaviour, become very defensive on behalf of and to the company and deliberately fail to show respect, listen and comprehend that not all customers have neither the time nor the ability to ‘fight’ in the belief that they will not win to then suffer with the issue remaining in their lives. They are left to cut their losses and go elsewhere or give-up the fight and continue to give their patronage to the offending company. Companies are fully aware of this. One question is, why?

    A complaints procedure is a subject to itself which I will write about extensively in my new Consumer Welfare blog when it is published sometime this year. Customer service, benefits, welfare, culture, respect, handling, whatever name one wants to use after the stand-alone, prefix, “customer,” is a culture and there are many organisations still popping up in the business of customer service simply due to negative aspects rather than positive ones.

    Companies ought to be lessening the amount of complaints they receive due to conscious provision of decent service to customers as one of their core values and vision, missions statements of their company culture, but instead, companies are not doing so and awarding staff for their great handling of customer complaints, of which, there should never be a need for certain types of complaints to arise and, indeed take place. And, what of the consumers? Do they receive awards for the unnecessary experiences they’ve had to endure at the hands of the companies apart from, if any, apology letters, compensation, complaints resolved, ?


  • Phil

    July 20, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    I went to Wolverhampton market for the first time the guy on the rock store was very rude to I have got learning difficulties im going back there in till it has been sorted.


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