In a rising economy, when consumer demand increases, prices go up. In contrast, regrettably, we often see levels of customer service going down as businesses focus on quick profits. How many times have you heard stories of service providers not calling the customer back after an initial enquiry?
A close friend is in the market to buy a property and is frustrated at the lack of follow-up to phone calls. On the other hand, in the last few years I have personally worked with estate agents and have met some very professional operators. But excellence in customer service is very inconsistent across the board.
It really bothered me during the Celtic Tiger years to see so many businesses develop a level of arrogance and complacency to customer service. Are we in danger of returning to this as our economy returns to growth?
The construction industry had a calamitous recession. Today, however, despite the shortage of housing, it's encouraging to see some strong numbers coming through. Construction output for 2018 is forecast to grow by 12.7pc and in 2019 by 7.9pc.
This is good news for all companies in the construction industry. Among them is the Saint-Gobain Group, a Fortune 500 multinational with global revenues of €40bn. It designs, manufactures and distributes materials and solutions which can be found everywhere in our living places and our daily life.
In Ireland, some of the best-known brands in the construction sector are part of the group, including Gyproc, Isover, Weber, JP Corry, Bassetts, and PDM. Together they offer a range of energy-saving products and solutions to help create a more sustainable built environment.
I have worked with two of their building material brands, Gyproc and Isover, which have a long history of providing innovative, cost-effective and reliable products that meet the demands of the local construction industry.
They have been involved in many of Ireland's biggest building projects including Google Docks, the Convention Centre Dublin, the Aviva Stadium, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, The Titanic Signature Building and T2 at Dublin Airport.
Saint-Gobain provides solutions that make buildings more efficient in terms of their energy consumption, which help contribute to reducing harmful CO2 emissions.
Most of its solutions (especially those using glass, mineral wool insulation, plasterboard, and facade and floor covering mortars) are already helping and will help even more in the future to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.
"Our vision is to be the most trusted, respected and valued building materials partner on the island of Ireland," said Brian Dolan, managing director. "We are really serious about that. As a market leader in the construction industry, we believe we have a responsibility to lead change and bring our customer more to the fore."
This is a strong, brave but very achievable ambition for any organisation. Gyproc and Isover are B2B suppliers whose customers include contractors, merchants and architects.
How do they introduce a new business model that convinces both customers and their own employees that this is the future?
1 Get consensus from the leadership team
The leadership team of Saint-Gobain started the conversation a number of years ago. They brought in external speakers (me included) to provoke the organisation into thinking differently. I was briefed to share case studies of other organisations and other industries to show how the world was changing.
2 Benchmark your current service level against others in the industry
Saint-Gobain did this and discovered that customers already rated the company very highly. Nevertheless, to really challenge themselves, the team also benchmarked themselves against other industries. That exposed new opportunities for continuous improvement.
Pat O'Connor, the operations director, said: "We discovered that we were very transactional in our approach and we needed to move on from giving great customer service to excellence in customer experience".
3 Engage your own people
The team mapped the customer journey at all interactions, from order taking to deliveries and every touch-point in-between. They identified obstacles and opportunities for improvement.
"We listened to our own people as they are the ones at the front line," said Pat. An example of this is where the logistics team examined how trucks were being loaded and off-loaded.
By listening to customers and engaging with their own people from different departments, they improved the process.
4 Keep customer experience as a priority by providing customer experience training for all
This is not just a one-off for Saint-Gobain, as they also provide regular, continuous training.
Over the years in my capacity as a change agent, I have supported organisations with strategy development, culture change and people productivity. Regardless of the brief, I always ensure that internal and external customer experience gets special attention. What impressed me when working with Saint-Gobain was that, despite having targets to achieve, they have embraced the reality of our new world and prioritised customer experience as a key business driver.
I passionately believe that as the world continues to change, excellence in customer experience is the new battleground. This applies to all industries, B2C, B2B and the public sector.
Alan O'Neill is a change consultant and non-executive director. For 30-plus years he has been supporting global and iconic brands through change. Alan-oneill.com. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to email@example.com
Sunday Indo Business