We meet Dr Ian Brooks – the new Customer Care Advisor for the Port Macquarie Customer Care Program …
Hi Ian. Whereabouts are you based?
I’m based in Auckland, New Zealand.
How far and wide around the world does your work take you?
I try to concentrate my work in New Zealand and Australia, but I do have to travel further afield than this. I do about 200 speeches a year on the subject of customer care, business strategy and business growth.
I’m also Customer Care Advisor to a number of retail brands in Australia, including the Holiday Coast Credit Union based in your area and in New Zealand, including the Insurance Brokers Association and the Marine Association.
I have ongoing relationships with many companies, and I’ve written 16 books on the subjects of business management and customer care. I also write a monthly column for New Zealand Business called Customer Excellence. I’m a founding member of Customer Experience Management New Zealand, which is an association for people who are interested in improving their customer experience.
So, this is what I do. I’m passionate about business, and I’m a practicing businessman myself. I’m on the boards of companies, I’m Chairman of a few small companies and have my own businesses.
Was there a moment where you suddenly realised that customer care was key to business success, or was this a gradually evolving thought process?
I’m a clinical psychologist by profession, and many years ago now – we’re talking back in the late 1970s – I started out in private practice as a clinical psychologist in Canada. I realised that the business of psychology was people and that the people were the foundation of every business. So right at the beginning, I became involved in working with businesses as well as doing more traditional clinical things – and the people in business are, of course, business owners, employees and customers. As I worked more and more in business, I grew to understand this.
I also grew to understand how important customers are and that customers are anyone who uses a product or service you produce. Staff are the customers of business owners – so the dilemma of whether you put your staff first or the customer disappeared. It’s all about the customer! Some of your customers are staff, if you’re an owner; some of them may be internal customers, if you’re an employee; and then there are the external customers.
In the late 1980s, I became very involved in the area of quality management. The definition of quality is ‘fitness for purpose as determined by the customer’. Before this, people had thought of quality as being something premium – like a Rolex watch. But if you don’t want a Rolex watch, and you want something that’s inexpensive, attractive and reliable, then that becomes a quality item for you – not the Rolex. This further strengthens the whole position of customer.
So, the first step change was realising that business is all about people and that customers make up one of the important groups; and the next step change is realising whether or not you’re delivering the quality product or service that cannot be determined by you, but only by the customer.
Along the way, you start to understand that 100 per cent of a business’ profits come from its customers, and unless they’re losing money or borrowing to expand, 100 per cent of their operating revenue comes from the customer. I learned from personal experience that no business can possibly succeed unless it attracts, sells to and retains customers.
If we’re employees, we need to understand that customers pay our wages; therefore, it’s really the customer we’re working for. It became very clear to me that customers just aren’t important to your business – they ARE your business.
This all makes great sense, but most businesses don’t get it. As a result, research shows that customers are unhappy; they’re disappointed with the level of service offered.
Business is tough globally these days, but what is something businesses can typically do to improve their customer service?
Fundamentally, businesses don’t understand the significance of customer care; therefore, they’re not putting effort into this. They’re not recruiting people who are strong in this field; they don’t make it a number one priority or provide the training and skills required to do this. Businesses that get this, who are making customers their number one priority, are actually making money – even in this tough environment.
You’ve been appointed to the position of Customer Care Advisor for the Port Macquarie Customer Care Program. What will you bring to the role?
I bring quite a lot of expertise and a lot of passion. Let me make it very clear that I’m doing this in a voluntary capacity – I’m not being paid for doing this, and I’m doing it because when I was in Port Macquarie working with Neville Parsons, the CEO of the Holiday Coast Credit Union, he told me about the Customer Care Program. I was just thrilled that there was a local body, a Council, that understands that the better the service delivered in a local area, the better the growth in that area.
Then I got to know the people within the program and came to understand that the program is facing some challenges. It used to be a free program with roughly 300 members, and when a small membership fee was introduced, the membership dropped to around 130. There was review done by the Council and the local taskforce that identified a number of issues, so by the time I came along, there was some concern about how the program would move forward. I’m hoping to bring to the table the belief that the program should keep going – it’s very valuable to the community as a whole – but there are some things that can be changed.
The program was initially basically an accreditation program … you were mystery shopped to see if you were good enough and then given a sticker to put on your door. In my view, it needs to become more of a membership program … where the decal on the door says to the customer that we are looking after you seriously, and we’re on a continuous journey of improvement to do just that. I’m more than happy to deliver practical solutions to the program. I’ve written a booklet about the ten things we all need to understand to make our business successful; I’ve given the rights of this booklet to the program, so anyone who joins will get a copy. I’m doing a free luncheon for members about growing their business in a challenging market and running a workshop – which may provide me with a small fee, depending on the numbers who attend – about how to get customers keep coming back.
I’ve worked on a project called Tell Simon with somebody else, which is a customer feedback system – an internet based system that makes it easy for customers to offer suggestions, complaints and compliments to businesses. There’s been a small fee customising this program for the Customer Care Program, but it’s basically free to the members of the program. I’ve tried to bring some practical tools, enthusiasm and experience to the program. I think it’s a fantastic program.
What advantages do you see for businesses that join the Customer Care Program?
The advantages are that they will have access to tools and seminars that will teach business leaders and their staff to constantly develop their skills. There will be access to very specific tools, like Tell Simon, so it will be very easy for them to hear from their customers.
They will also have the opportunity to mix and mingle with people who are very like-minded and who are passionate about the service to their customers. That’s what it will all add up to … If someone said to me, “Why should I belong to this program?” I’d say, “Because it will grow your business.”
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 78 of Port Macquarie Focus