Over the last few decades technology has drastically changed the way businesses operate and how people are served. In New Zealand, and around the globe, businesses have jumped head-first into experimenting with new service methods and are seeing varying degrees of success. Fast-food restaurants have introduced touch-screen order stations, banks have online banking apps, supermarkets have unmanned checkouts and service stations have self-service pumps.
Despite these changes and a growing consumer independence, newly released results from the 2015 Kiwihost Customer Service Survey reveal that New Zealanders still want three important things from a service operator: someone who listens and understands their needs, someone who is willing to help, and someone who responds to them quickly.
When Z Energy came on the scene in 2011, one of the first things they did was to sit down with customers and listen to them about what they really wanted. The overwhelming response was for a fast, friendly and hassle-free experience.
Z listened carefully and responded by revitalising the concept of service on the forecourt, calling it the ‘forecourt concierge’. While they’ve also added things like the ability to pay at pump, it's this commitment to exceptional customer service that helps them bridge the gap between new technology and traditional service values.
Six years on, Z are still learning about what customers want and taking their feedback on board. As a result, the forecourt concierge has grown to become a hallmark of their brand. Someone who is taking this role to the next level is twenty-two year old Ed Matthews, forecourt concierge at Andy Bay station in Dunedin. His customer service skills have generated over 90 glowing customer comments since January this year. This is an unprecedented amount of feedback for a single employee, proving that a willing, friendly and timely approach to service is highly valued by customers.
The secret to Ed’s style of service is simple; he always offers a winning smile paired with a positive attitude. He pays attention to the little things: noticing if people are in a hurry; if they need their windscreen washed; making sure they don’t forget their petrol cap; and even escorting the elderly across the forecourt by the arm.
It’s this attentive, old-fashioned service that saw Ed win the 2016 Z Forecourt Concierge Supreme Award for the best forecourt concierge in Z's network, with a judging process based partly on customer feedback. His employer, Z retailer Jonathan Usher, notes the effect exceptional service has had on the station, not just its customers.
“He really has made a difference, to the point where it’s also lifted our expectations of what’s possible on the forecourt. And now all of our forecourt concierges are striving to be the best at what they do,” says Jonathan.
With such a positive reception from customers, it’s no surprise that other New Zealand businesses are catching on to the concierge concept. Supermarkets have introduced staff to assist shoppers with self-service checkouts, cities around the country have employed street-walking guides to impart local knowledge to visitors, and there’s talk of transport hubs employing concierges to help people connect to buses and trains during busy periods.
Clearly, there’s still a place for the human touch that only good old-fashioned service provides.