The marine supplies industry is extremely competitive – Singapore ship suppliers compete not just locally but also regionally and globally. Therefore, it is imperative that companies constantly evolve in terms of quality of products and services to stay ahead of competition.
Positive customer experience is what brings a customer back. If the customer is happy, they return. It is therefore essential for companies to understand the importance of having a holistic framework in place to achieve service excellence.
The marine industry faces especially unique challenges, and the Standards, People, Acknowledge, Relationship and Knowledge or SPARK framework provides the roadmap to service excellence for businesses to retain talent and overcome challenges.
Service and quality standards must be articulated to every team member with clear standard operating procedures in place. Benchmarking to international quality standards sends a clear message to both internal and external customers about the company’s quality stance. Quality standards like ISO certifications are important to guide the companies towards a quality-centred culture. Ship owners and operators have to conform to strict rules and regulations, and also require their vendors to have the necessary qualifications to support their operations. Today, just having ISO 9000 is insufficient as customers are requiring their vendors to be certified ISO 14000, OHSAS 18000 and ISO 22000. Companies with these standards have added advantage over their competitors that don’t, while companies who fail to upgrade their standards consistently will risk becoming irrelevant.
People are a company’s greatest asset. A company is only as good as the people are. If your people are happy and motivated, they will do a good job and your customers will be happy. Treat employees like your customers and you will see the difference. Many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have informal talent management departments who decide on the hiring and firing as well as the policies. These companies often do not have clear guidelines and policies and many decisions are reactive rather than proactive. It is important to establish clear career routes of advancement for employees through training or education, coupled with fair rewards and compensation packages.
It is important to acknowledge good work and effort sincerely. A word of appreciation from management goes a long way. Good work by employees can be recognised through Employee of the Month Awards, company newsletters or even a simple email message. This sends a positive message to employees that the company appreciates and recognises employees who make an effort to excel at the workplace.
If things don’t go right with your customers, acknowledge the concerns and complaints of customers promptly. Communicate and find a solution for the customer and you might have a customer for life. Service recovery is an important aspect of delivering good service. Most companies, like people, don’t like to deal with unpleasant situations. But the company that is able to handle difficult situations gracefully and in a timely manner is one that has a strong customer service culture, and is able to continuously learn and improve. Most customers can see that these companies are making an effort to correct the situation and will appreciate the effort. Companies that sweep complaints and feedback under the carpet will draw negative feedback resulting in negative brand equity.
It is important to build relational capital with both internal and external customers. It is also important to understand their needs and expectations. Positive relational capital will ensure a long-term relationship. The tangible and intangible costs of replacing a trained team member are substantial. Besides losing the knowledge base of the individual, the relationships established with customers are also lost. Time and effort has to be invested to retrain new team members, who then have to start from scratch when building relationships with customers.
Companies should have in place a formal feedback process and regular dialogues with employees to better understand their needs and challenges. Annual town hall style meetings with employees are a useful platform to share the company’s direction and goals, and have a dialogue with senior management at the same time. Cultivating a healthy relationship amongst employees is also important in ensuring teamwork and co-operation to provide the customer with a seamless experience.
Likewise, regular contact and dialogues with customers will allow companies to better understand the needs and requirements of the customers. Companies can then use these information to tailor their products and services to meet their customers’ needs. It is not about selling the customers what you want to sell, but rather, selling them what they need to ensure business sustainability.
A well-trained team is always an asset to the company. It is important to embrace the culture of continuous learning. There must be space to allow members to make mistakes as they innovate and push the boundaries of excellence. Companies must encourage a culture that emphasises continuous learning. With a reasonable training budget, companies have various options with regards to formalising a training program. Companies can work with vendors to conduct in-house training or engage an external trainer for other soft skills training. A change from the normal working environment will allow employees to have a broader perspective apart from gaining knowledge. This will also invariably increase the customer’s confidence in dealing with the company.
This article was brought to you by Danny Lien, President of the Singapore Association of Ship Suppliers (SASS).