FEATURE ARTICLE

Are your customers satisfied?

Published: September 25, 2017

Shaun Myers, Business Service Director at Brenntag UK & Ireland, speaks to Speciality Chemicals Magazine about the implications of customer satisfaction on business performance, and opportunities that a focus on customer service excellence presents to chemical companies.

According to the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) the Customer Satisfaction score in the UK in June 2017 was 78.2 – its highest point since January 2013. With negotiations on the UK’s exits from the EU underway, the level of customer confidence remains high on the agenda for the economy overall, and for the chemical industry in particular.

Shaun Myers (SM), Business Service Director at Brenntag UK & Ireland, tells us about his company’s recent project to discover what their customers think about working with Brenntag, and how this has influenced the business.

How did the project come about?

SM: I’ve always held a fairly simplistic view: develop a good understanding of what your customers want and organize the business to exceed those wants. Running my own departments or sites it was – and I use the phrase carefully – relatively easy, as you were closer to the customer and could hear first hand all the delights and disappointments. When I was given the job to look after all the sites in the UK & Ireland the same thought preoccupied me, I just needed a grander plan.

A key element is understanding the different requirements from the vast array of industry types we serve. Late last year we conducted our most in depth Customer Survey using a global business to business research partner to ensure complete integrity and help with the analysis and action plan. Subsequently we are sending pulse surveys to a smaller number of customers each month to help understand the positive impacts our changes are making, as well as confirming the work we still have to do.

Discussions with our European colleagues highlighted the value in a unified approach to the project. As a global leader, our customers have the right to expect a consistent standard of industry-leading service, although local geography, market dynamics and demands do however require a tailored approach. Early adopters are our Brenntag colleagues in North America, DACH Region, Italy, CEE Region and the list is growing quickly.

What did you evaluate in the survey, and what were the results?

We have traditionally taken the temperature of our customers through annual surveys, but these only really provided us with a snapshot of a moment in time. Our aim and objectives is to hear thousands of voices and insights of our customers on the ongoing basis. We have started this process through the pulse surveys and want to expand much further into all of our customer touch points.

The ongoing results are enlightening, in the sense that it is allowing us to have a much more informed view on how our diverse customer base truly sees Brenntag service. Customer expectations are constantly increasing and dynamic. We need to create systems that allow us to respond to these changes, and to even anticipate these changes, in order that we regularly, and consistently, outperform the customer's expectations.

Have the results of the survey altered Brenntag’s day to day operations?

In my view, it’s necessary to challenge our current thinking on many levels. The journey towards true customer-centricity is ultimately a comprehensive change management programme. How our customers feel about their experiences with Brenntag depends largely on the motivation, engagement and views of our colleagues, therefore to improve that element is also a big part of reaching the next level of service excellence and positive customer experiences.

Let’s use an example. Today we find that more customers will escalate complaints; something that I personally encourage. I however agree with the UKCSI view that, to be a genuine leader in customer experience, we need to move way beyond measuring transactional experiences such as number of complaints. To design a survey we looked at the most detailed journey map: which interactions do customers emotionally engage in, that we could look at in our quest of creating the delight - the Wow moments. Dealing with customers with strong sense of emotion, demonstrating the real empathy, emotional intelligence - all the aspects that are probably not only about brand promises - it is about the personalization of the experience to each customer.

Customer Experience is becoming a new language for us. Customer Experience as a field is still relatively novel, especially in Europe vs the US, and definitely in B2B organizations. We need to learn from our cousins in the B2C world, but only from those few who are genuinely world class. Every member of our staff has had at least some level of training and discussion about the Survey results and how we aim to improve. We have established Customer Experience teams at every Brenntag location across the UK & Ireland, and an important point is that these teams are cross functional, representing all areas of Brenntag business, to evaluate how we connect and interact with Brenntag customers.

In addition to our internal training and communication programmes, and as real testimony to the commitment given by Russel (Argo, President Brenntag UK&Ireland) and my fellow exec members, we have selected a team of 35 colleagues from across the entire business to be trained to master practitioner level, involving over 300 days, by a world-renowned expert in the field. This is huge investment of time, resource and in our colleagues who will be responsible for training the next level of enthusiasts in the organisation.

So how would you define customer service?

I actually think customer service is somewhat a misnomer. Let’s talk about the notion of customer experience instead! Let’s look at the whole process: from when a customer just has an idea of what we supply, to placing an actual order there may be hundreds of interactions and touch points. Customer experience is the sum of all the highs and the lows, it is the culmination of the emotions.

Customer Service is part of a process – Customer Experience is a passion, an attitude, a culture. It is all about people and how they feel. The brands that outlast the competition are the ones where customers feel the love and passion of the brand and this passion is supported by robust, easy and simple processes. 150 years of our history in the chemical industry, and our regular feedback from customers and colleagues, tells us what is important and how they feel. We want the name Brenntag to be synonymous with great customer experiences.

Should the customers now expect perfect service from Brenntag?

We have circa 20,000 customers and process 150,000 orders annually in the UK & Ireland. Extrapolating academic rules to our customer base, we generate around a billion customer experiences a year, and each has the opportunity to delight or to disappoint. Clearly our objective is to delight in as many of these moments as possible, however we’re only human! The most important thing in those interactions where we disappoint is that we listen and engage with the customer to quickly recover the experience. We want to ensure that our customers enjoy dealing with Brenntag because of the experience they receive from our colleagues, not just because of the global scale, geographical coverage and product offering that is inherent to Brenntag.

If you are reading this and you are a customer of Brenntag – I implore you to let us have your views and tell us about your experiences.

And lastly, what books have inspired you in your quest for the excellent customer experience?

I'd find it impossible to name just one book and it’s certainly a topic getting a lot of attention these days. Who are my biggest influencers? Academically speaking it starts with Fred Reichheld and his work on loyalty... Ken Blanchard’s work on Customer Service is very powerful, John Kotter as the Leading Change guru, Jim Collins for all round Business Sustainability and Growth, and of course the UK’s own Chris Daffy who puts it all together nicely. This is science, not science fiction!

 

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