ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday October 7, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 19
Financial Times  

Customer service and shareholder value

By Ravi Mahendra

Ralph Lauren the US designer has built an empire based on Customer service and Brand value. The market capitalisation of his Polo empire today is estimated to be in the range of $8 billion. It makes me wonder how many Sri Lankan companies actually invest in customer service, brand building and thus higher shareholder value

Customer Service and Brand loyalty
In today’s competitive world one form of clear differentiation for any business is superior customer service which will make customers market the business word of mouth and bring thousands of other customers. Each cost free extra customer will add to the bottom line and enhance shareholder value.

I took a flight on SriLankan Airlines recently and I was impressed by the professionalism and courtesy displayed by the staff in serving customers. When compared to European and US airlines this was excellent and something which I have been mentioning to many word of mouth ever since. In the same way Apollo Hospitals disappointed me with a drop in service standards which has crept in I believe with the change in management. I wasted four hours for a simple consultation which started with the doctor being an hour late.

Improving customer service
A few simple rules of life can be used to attract and retain customers. They are -
1. Treating customers with respect
2. Exceeding expectations
3. Employing the right staff and training them
4. After-sales care
5. Win-win approach

Treating customers with respect
I recently went for an appointment to Bartleet Finance for a leasing facility to meet a marketing manager. She was in the office but delayed the meeting by more than one hour. I left with disgust and walked into People’s Leasing where as usual I received a professional service. There is no point in advertising if customers are not treated with respect. The customer is the king and there are no compromises.

Exceeding expectations
I purchased an AC unit from a company called Air Mate. While the installation was going on at my house the GM walked in to ensure whether everything was alright. This is what I call exceeding expectations, which is a rare trait in Sri Lanka.

Employing the right staff and training them
A worrying feature in Sri Lanka is the lack of staff training and development at point of customer interaction. Staff should be trained in all three national languages, courtesy and patient treatment of customers. Senior managers should constantly mingle with customers and observe and correct service discrepancies.

After-sales care
A sale is a beginning and not an end of a good relationship. I once bought a car from AMW where I realised that after sales service was beyond expectations. Customers can make multiple purchases and bring many other customers.

Win-win approach
Remember business is about both parties winning. The customer should feel that they have won a lot. The service at Trans Asia Hotel in general is so good that you feel that you gain every time an event is organised there. This will bring the customer back.

Message to the Shareholders
Invest in companies where you see superior customer service. This in return will multiply your wealth and make it sustainable with minimum long term marketing costs. In fact the path to sustainable shareholder value starts with a change in mindset towards the customers.

(The writer is a member of CIMA, ACCA and holds an MBA from the University of Warwick UK. He is a Senior Finance Manager at Genworth Financial, a US-based isurance company in London. He can be contacted at



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