It seems that a lot of companies today talk about good customer service. However, how many actually provide it? It is sad to say that the answer appears to be not very many. In fact, when asked to define good customer service, a lot of businesses stutter and stammer, finding that they really cannot put it into words The end result is that customer service is quickly becoming a lost art form.
If you believe the multitude of surveys that are taken every year, almost 90 percent of all customers are dissatisfied with the customer service they receive. Further statistics indicate that most of those same customers say they would gladly switch to another company that provided good customer service, even if the prices were slightly higher.
Think about it. When was the last time you didn’t have to wait forever in line because the cashier was busy talking to her friend or making so many mistakes that she had to re-ring the same purchase two or three times? When was the last time you were able to return merchandise without having to sign over your first born? When was the last time you were able to reach a real person on the phone when you called a company with a complaint or even just a simple question? The truth is the American buyer is absolutely starved for customer service.
So what constitutes good customer service? The answer is not that difficult. Here are some basic starting points for every business to use in refining and improving customer service.
1. Remember that every customer base is both internal and external. As a business owner you must realize that you have a direct impact on the service that your customers receive; even if you do not directly deal with those customers yourself. Employees are your internal customers. They will impact your company’s external customers; the people that purchase your goods or services. If you, as an employer treat your employees poorly it is more than likely they will pass that treatment on to the customer. However, if you treat them fairly, with courtesy and tact, that is how they will probably treat customers.
2. Define what extraordinary customer service means for your industry. It is easy to say “we’re going to give great customer service” but just saying that isn’t sufficient. You must be able to deliver on the promise and you cannot do that if you have not defined exactly what constitutes that service. In some businesses, it might mean greeting every customer at the door. In others it might be providing money back guarantees on merchandise. For some, it might mean setting the lowest price or providing the best service policy. Whatever it ultimately is, you must establish exactly what good customer service means and then establish procedures geared toward achieving that goal.
3. Treat customers as the most of important part of your business. Do not treat them like an interruption to tasks like stocking merchandise, processing paperwork, or answering the phone. While those may very well be important functions of the job, there won’t be a job – – or a business – – without the customer.
4. Develop relationships with customers. Whenever feasible, learn the names of your regular customers. Smile when customers come in and offer a friendly greeting to make them feel at home. Ask how – – not if – – you can assist them. These are the things that create that much needed first impression and they do not cost you a single penny. Remember that you have between 20 and 30 seconds to make a first impression. That includes facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice along with “what” you say. These are the things that establish communication with the customer and begin the development of a long-term relationship.
5. Provide employees with customer service training. Employees will not know what you expect from them, unless you make it clear. Once the training is complete, make customer service a part of the evaluation process for employees. If they cannot, or will not, provide the kind of service your customers want and need, then they should be eliminated. If you allow one employee to provide substandard service, other employees will quickly follow suit. Encourage your employees to ask questions when they are uncertain about a certain customer service policy as well as to make suggestions for customer service improvement. Employees are in the trenches with the customer day in and day out. They generally have a much better feel for the customer wants and needs. Because of that, they may have valuable insight that can help you improve your service.
6. Ask customers what they expect. Use focus groups, suggestion boxes, or any other mechanism you can think of to get customer feedback. It will help invest the customer in your company and an invested customer more frequently returns. They also love to share their positive experiences with all their family and friends; making new customers for you to tap into.
7. Reward customer service successes; not just the failures. Employees need all the information they can get to help you reach that ultimate customer service goal. If you want them to continue to share your commitment, they should be rewarded for doing so. Implement a “customer service star of the month” or give a bonus for a certain number of customer compliments about an employee. This will help keep your employees energized to continue the process.
8. Keep in mind that all customers have a set of certain needs. If you meet those needs, you are well on your way to providing the service your customers most desire. Such needs include a need to feel understood. They want to know the message they are sending is being received. Sometimes they just need to vent. You might be the third or fourth person they have had to talk to about the same subject. You can’t indicate understanding with a simple nod of the head or by repeating back the customer’s message. Actually listen. You might learn something. Customers also want to feel welcome. They do not want to feel like an outsider. They need to feel that the business is happy to have them. A smile and a simple greeting will help. They also want to feel important. They want to feel that they are, in some way, special. Just saying “thank you for shopping with us” is insufficient but it is a start. Send them away with something. Whether it is something you can give them free, the ability to resolve their particular issue, or simply assuring them that you will follow up on their concern or suggestion, let them know they have been heard and that you value their opinion. Lastly, customers need to feel comfortable. They want a place to rest, to wait, to talk, and to be assured that they will be properly taken care of and confident that your business will meet their needs. This can be achieved in a lot of ways. Offer them a free cup of coffee; a place to sit down; or a place to leave their children while they shop.
If you doubt that customer service makes a difference you need only to look at the home shopping company QVC. To them, the customer is everything. They are the beginning, they are the middle, and they are the end. When you turn to the channel to watch QVC you always find a charming, intelligent, and highly trained host or hostess describing their particular on air product with as much detail and attention as they possibly can. When you call to order the product, you can actually “hear” their smile as they greet you and ask how they may serve you. They answer every question you throw their way and if they do not know the answer, they find it for you. Their ordering process is quick and simple and you are always thanked for your business. Your order can be tracked from the minute of application through delivery. QVC’s return process, should you need to use it, is equally as simple and painless. If you don’t like the item you ordered for any reason you can return it within 30 days; no questions asked. Even if you go beyond the 30 days and then discover a flaw in the product, QVC will make it right. They do anything and everything to make new customers and to hold on to the customers they already have. No matter the mechanism – – phone, computer, or mail – – their employees exhibit total excellence in service. Customers are also rewarded by QVC. They offer deferred payments, easy pay options, discounts and more. They have their finger firmly on the pulse of the wants and needs of their customer. That might have something to do with them still being the fastest growing television retailer in the world, some 20 years after their inception.
No matter if your business is large or small, customer service is something you can certainly hang your hat on. Do it well and you will bind the customer to you for life. Do it poorly and you will lose that customer and very likely every family member and friend they can influence. The decision is ultimately yours!