When you started your business, you probably thought a whole lot about the product or service you were going to offer. You did research… you made plans. You ordered business cards. Now that things are up and running it’s important to take the time to think about your business from a different perspective… your customers’. By shifting your point of view in this way you’ll be amazed at the strikingly clear picture you get of what’s working, and what might not be.
What do your customers need? What will keep them coming back to you instead of someone else? How can you stand out from the pack? Beyond your product or service, it’s the service you offer to your customers that can make the most difference in your success. A 2007 piece by international trainer and business consultant Laurie Brown in Corporate Logo magazine mentioned seven qualities of standout customer service that can take any business, yours included, to the next level. These are…
- You need to be accessible so it’s easy for customers to do business with you.
- Your business hours should be compatible with your clients’ needs.
- Be sure to greet customers warmly, on the phone or in person. Smile.
- Always say “yes” so long as the request is not illegal, immoral or unethical… or “Let me see what I can do.” if you can’t say yes right away.
- Own your customers needs and issues — and let them know you’ll do whatever it takes to resolve the problem.
- Keep up with customer needs — do what you can to exceed their expectations.
- Show your ability and expertise — read what your customers read, learn something new, learn about your competitors or find out what others are saying about you.
Where once you might have dismissed the customer service aspect of your business… in today’s economic climate you can’t afford to do that. Research shows that good customer services leaves a business with happier, more loyal customers… people who will share their experience with others. In today’s environment, for a company to distinguish itself, customer service needs to be a way of doing business — not just for the owner, but for every single person who works there.
Another thing to remember about standout customer service, it doesn’t have to be grand gestures or constant contact. Little things count a whole lot… as illustrated by the story of a gas station in my town that’s staffed by approachable guys who readily take a look at a problem… top off a fluid or adjust something for free. No charge and done with a smile. Guess where I go for every fill up? And when my car starts making strange sounds… I do what it takes to get the car to that one station.
Just as loyal customers can be a boon to your business, the dissatisfied ones can hurt you a whole lot, especially in certain types of industries. There are statistics quoted that have 91% of your dissatisfied customers leaving for good. Of those who complain, 56% to as many as 70% will give you another chance, if you resolved the problem with respect, courtesy and efficiency.
When it comes to having standout customer service, here are some key phrases, courtesy of Mac Anderson, author of Customer Love: Great Stories Of Great Service for you (and anyone who interacts with customers) to keep in mind…
“I apologize for our mistake. Let me make it right.”
There’s absolutely no upside to making excuses or denying what you’re being told. Think how you’d like this handled if you were in the customer’s place. You want to be heard and acknowledged… and this is just what you and your staff need to do — when something goes awry, listen to the customer, offer a genuine apology, and then find out what you can do to set things right.
“Thank you for your business. Please come back again.”
Keeping a current customer is far more affordable (5 to 6 times cheaper than getting a new one), and immediate (it takes 7 to 8 exposures before people act), then winning prospective ones. Remembering to thank a current customer for their business, a referral or an especially large purchase is a rare treat for people these days.
“I’m not sure, but I will find out.”
No one always has the answer… and most people understand this and respect your honesty for admitting it. Rather than stammering as you try to come up with something on the spot, acknowledge that you don’t have the information — but that you’re going to get it. A response like this shows a customer you understand it’s your job to find the answer for them, and over time builds trust and confidence in your abilities.
“What else can I do for you?”
Be ready to go the extra mile… do the unexpected extra no one does anymore. Look for ways to be helpful… to give just a bit more. Acknowledge a birthday or special occasion. Reward loyalty, These are all examples of customer service at it’s finest, and so rare that anyone who offers these kinds of extras immediately stands out.
“What is most convenient for you?”
It’s an unexpected (but oh-so-appreciated) courtesy when someone asks what works best for you. Just think about the last time someone did that for you… and how it made you feel. As if your time has value. Respected and appreciated… which is just how you want customers of your business to feel.
“How did we do?”
Beyond showing customers and clients you care a bout your business… this question gives you some incredibly valuable feedback. What you learn will help you understand your company’s strengths and weakness as well as find areas for improvement. Those who do business with you have a unique perspective they’d love to share… if you take the time to ask and listen to the answer.
“Glad you’re here!”
Nothing beats a cheerful welcome… whether in person or online. Feeling comfortable encourages buyers to relax… to be open and to spend. What’s more, a customer is more likely to return to a place that left him or her with good feelings than one that was cold and stilted. Never underestimate the value of a smile and a cheerful greeting.
Hopefully you’ve come to recognize how important standout customer service is to your business. Not only does it help you build a loyal customer base, but by going that extra mile… doing an unexpected something… offering expertise and accessibility you’ll distinguish your business from all the rest. And these days, being the company with this level of customer service is more of an advantage than ever before.