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  • Service culture in business-to-business e-commerce

    26 April, 2017

    By Academie du Service UK

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    Sister companies Rajapack (Bedfordshire) and Morplan (Essex)

    Success in customer service means being instinctively skilled in the approach, with good relations starting at the first point of client contact.

    These are the views of two sister companies specialising in business-to-business e-commerce: packaging firm Rajapack and retail fashion industry supplier Morplan , both part of Raja Group , the €475m-turnover, Europe-wide packaging distributor.

    For Rajapack managing director Tom Rodda, who runs a £15m operation with 72 staff, employees have to be person-centred, friendly, and “consciously competent” in service. Mark Chatterton, managing director of the £18m, 120-employee firm Morplan, agrees that the human touch is crucial for businesses reliant on online transactions. “Service is a broad church… in the UK you think service when things go wrong. But for me service starts with the first interaction.”

    Family-owned firm Raja Group bought Aidpack in 1998, a company incorporated in October 1968 (now known as Rajapack) and acquired Morplan in 2015. The two subsidiaries share more than just a parent company, however. Although Rajapack belonged to its French parent for some time and British-born Morplan is a more recent addition, the firms share a unified approach to service culture. Both are multichannel brands offering mail order, online and telephone ordering, and both believe in customising service for clients and empowering employees. Morplan also has stores in London, Bristol and Glasgow.

    Defining a culture of service

    For Rajapack’s Tom Rodda, excellent customer relations are imperative when a company does not manufacture its own products; service experience is the missing link between product and buyer. Tom explains: “Since we don’t make products, you can’t create a good customer experience if your customer service is not great. It’s your lever for getting a competitive advantage. We buy and deliver a product, without services we wouldn’t have anything to add to the mix… This enhanced customer experience is what makes the customer do business with us.”

    This “enhanced experience” can include, for example, staff introducing themselves by their first names and describing themselves as “packaging specialists”. Rajapack customer services manager Clair Ball adds: “We take care of everything for them. Clients are fed up with automated customer services and are happy to have an actual human contact delivered by us. The reassuring factor which makes the experience great is knowing that in case something goes wrong, we are here to take good care of them and right the wrong.”

    Clair adds: “Our motto in the company is ‘how can we make it easier for customers?’ We ask ourselves that question before making any decision. If the answer is ‘No, that doesn’t make it easier’, then it is not worth doing.”

    Rajapack has a 99.2% order fill rate, ships 300 orders a night, and customer service staff dealing with backorders, delays and delivery questions. Originally a mail order company, web-based transactions now account for 33% of turnover.

    Sister company Morplan, founded in 1845, is similarly customer-centric, with eight dedicated customer service staff focused on contributing to sales and after sales services. As Morplan customer service manager Helen Smith says, “For us, good service is meeting customer expectations. At Morplan, we aim to answer any inquiry in 30 minutes and to keep customers updated at all times.” The company promises delivery within three days, with most products in fact reaching customers within a day, raising satisfaction levels. Year-on-year customer retention is a key performance indicator.

    Customer centricity is incorporated into the Morplan company strategy and discussed as a key measure of success at weekly management meetings. In addition, service is measured through immediate post-purchase surveys among online, mail order and store clients. Their aim is to retain the Gold Standard as measured by Ecomi and retaining that standard is also part of the company-wide bonus scheme.

    Empowering employees

    Both Morplan and Rajapack also turn their service gaze inward, towards the workforce. Morplan runs an employee-of-the-month programme, with the winner demonstrating a positive impact on the customer or a benefit to a Morplan colleague. They win a £50 voucher. Once a year, the overall winner is rewarded with £250 and two days of extra holiday.

    When Mark took over as managing director in July 2015, he adopted a coach-oriented approach to management, a change to the previous, more traditional top-down style. Managers now have more autonomy to make decisions because, as Mark says, formal written rules and regulations stifle empowerment and creativity. He explains: “Informality enables people to be creative and flexible; they can have more room to explore and find ways of delivering great customer service. Formality, in regards to boundaries and rules, restrict that.”

    A similar approach exists at Rajapack, where managers do not need to seek approval from the managing director, thanks to a relatively flat management structure. An “extra mile award”, voted for by all employees and decided by the management team, is given to the staff member who has gone over and above their duty in service to customers. Winners receive a bottle of champagne and £250.

    The service challenge in e-commerce

    An issue in e-commerce is that of controlling the service quality of the third-party carriers who deliver the products. Mark explains: “Freight providers are the weak link, and this is a great challenge. Carriers are the demonstration of our service, but not all of them are good.”

    To combat this, Mark has held meetings with carriers to explain his expectations, and other senior staff sometimes get involved direclty in the customer experience after goods are dispatched. For example, Helen, the customer service manager, often checks if a carrier collected parcels on time from the warehouse. If not, she will contact the carrier, investigate the problem and try and fix it – or get in touch with the client to advise about any delay.

    The commitment to personalised customer service goes as far as Mark even telephoning clients himself to rectify any problems. This underlines the focus on the human touch in service culture, and demonstrates that the service-led approach to business goes right to the top of the organisation.

    Key messages from Rajapack and Morplan

    • Family business Raja Group is the parent company, but the UK managers of its subsidiaries treat their organisations as their own businesses
    • The entrepreneurial spirit means that the board trusts managers to deliver great results and therefore does not over-regulate activities
    • Employees experience customer centricity first-hand; they are encouraged to be flexible and creative in order to achieve a higher level of customer service

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