Does customer service matter today? It always used to be held up as a shining example of how to do business and I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “the customer is always right”.
But does it still apply or is good old-fashioned customer service dead?
I believe it does matter. Thanks to the Internet, social media, online forums and review sites our world is shrinking. One unhappy customer is all it takes to tell thousands more about the bad customer service they received from you.
And poof… there goes your hard-earned reputation.
The truth is that great customer service is more important than ever. It is the very lifeblood of your business and the only way to keep your customers coming back.
You can offer promotions, slash prices and advertise all day long but unless you build customer loyalty and get some of your customers to return, your business will never be sustainable.
Studies show that it costs 6-7 times more for you to find new customers than it does to retain your existing ones. But a mere 5% increase in customer retention rates can deliver up to 95% more profits so it’s definitely worth improving your customer service skills.
The Importance Of Customer Service
Good customer service creates happy customers and builds strong customer relationships.
When customers are delighted with your service they will praise you and recommend your products and services to others, which helps build your company’s reputation.
It sounds simple but why do so many companies still get this wrong?
Here in the UK it often feels like truly great customer service is a thing of the past. As consumers, many Brits have become resigned to outsourced customer service departments, faceless, electronic helpdesks, automated emails that we can’t reply to and the torture of being stuck on hold forever on the telephone. Maybe it’s the same where you are?
The Internet marketing space is one of the worst offenders for bad customer service with many self-proclaimed “gurus” using dubious selling tactics to market their products but then disappearing when things go wrong or a customer wants a refund.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. As a small business operating online there are several steps that you can take to put your customer first and distinguish yourself against your competitors. Here are some simple customer service tips you can implement today.
6 Simple Rules For Customer Service
Believe it or not, you don’t have to do huge things to provide great customer service and turn customers into repeat buyers. Excellent customer service boils down to taking care of your customers, making them feel appreciated, helping them solve a need or a problem and delivering what you say you will.
#1 Smile Often
It’s important that whenever you deal with your customers you smile. If you have a bricks-and-mortar business you must make eye contact with them when they walk through the door so they feel welcomed and valued.
Smiling instantly makes you look more attractive and approachable. It is also more likely to draw people to you and help diffuse a tense atmosphere.
But this doesn’t just apply to face-to-face meetings. You should also “smile while you dial”.
When you are speaking to a customer on the phone, although they can’t see you, they will be able to pick up on your energy and literally “hear” the smile in your voice.
If you have staff, train them to be cheerful on the phone and remember to sound upbeat and positive yourself. It’s easy to forget this when you run an online business but coaches and consultants especially should raise their energy levels on the phone to inspire and motivate their clients. After all, you want to leave them feeling good after talking to you!
Smiling may not come naturally to you but if you practice smiling and laughing regularly it will get easier. It may surprise you to learn that your brain can’t tell the difference between a real smile or a fake one so practicing will not only make you feel better but help you smile and laugh more spontaneously too.
#2 Listen Carefully
As a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than going to great lengths to explain your problem to a customer service representative only to discover that the other person wasn’t listening or that you have to say it all over again.
Give your customer space to talk and listen carefully while they speak. Don’t interrupt but offer appropriate responses to let them know you understand. By letting them tell you their problems, you can also come up with the best way to help them.
This is a strategy I often use when I am coaching clients or consulting with businesses. Quite often the customer doesn’t know what solution they need, only the problem they’re facing. In other instances, they may think they need one thing but in reality need something entirely different.
Do not wait for the first opportunity to butt in with your perfect sales pitch but give your customer the courtesy of simply listening, really listening, before you offer solutions. It could be that you are not the best person to help them. In such cases the smartest thing to do is to refer them to someone else or a resource that is more suited to their needs.
#3 Train Your Staff
When I was working in recruitment I was tasked with turning around one particular branch that was notorious for its under-performance and high staff turnover.
I spent most of the first week observing how each front-line employee – from the receptionist to the manager – answered the phone and dealt with customers.
For a company that was supposed to have customer service at the very heart of its operations, I was stunned that the phones went unanswered for long periods of time, customers were kept waiting for their appointments and very few staff members could handle complaints or irate customers.
The whole office needed re-educating on the importance of customer service. This meant training them to not only do certain actions but also adopt a complete customer-oriented approach.
If you hire staff in your business, including freelancers, outsourcers and virtual assistants then you must give them guidelines of what to say and do in every conceivable situation. These people are on the front-line and are most likely the first time a customer will experience your product or service.
Teach them to be friendly and polite at all times and make sure they know what they are doing. Provide a script or a checklist of do’s and don’ts if necessary in order to ensure that every customer’s experience is a positive, pleasant one.
#4 Don’t Overpromise
If you say you will deliver something by Friday then do so. Otherwise don’t say it.
Reliability is a cornerstone of good customer service and nothing will disappoint and annoy your customers more than a trail of broken promises, missed deadlines and delays. As tempting as it might be to promise the world to your customer in order to win their business, only do this if you are 100% sure you can deliver to the required standard, within budget and on time.
Don’t let customers pressure you to committing on the spot. Manage their expectations by asking for some time to put a proposal or action plan together so you can really think things through.
I learned this lesson very quickly in the early days of my business when I let my enthusiasm get the better of me and ended up working around the clock on a very involved project. It worked out that I earned less than minimum wage so don’t make the same mistake I did!
It is far better to add a few extra days or weeks onto a schedule and increase the budget to give you some wriggle room. Things often take longer and cost more than you think.
#5 Address Complaints
When things go wrong, fix them. If a product is faulty, then replace it for free. If you make a mistake, address it. If someone complains on social media, respond. To the best of your ability do whatever you can to keep your customer happy.
This does not mean that you should bow down to unreasonable demands. Most customers are reasonable and just want to get the service they paid for. However every so often you will run into someone who is never satisfied and will happily have you slaving away.
In such instances the customer is not always right.
You must be fair and do the right thing of course but set boundaries by being absolutely clear about what you will and won’t do.
One way to get the balance right is to ask the customer what would make things right for them. If that sounds reasonable then do it. If not, try to reach a compromise. The objective is to make things right as far as possible and then to move on.
As you and your business grow you will start to get a feel for your ideal customer. Respect yourself by turning down work that is not aligned with your core values. Good customer service means respecting yourself, your time and your talent too.
It is okay to say no and let certain customers go.
#6 Go The Extra Mile
Very few businesses have the wow factor these days. If you really want to delight your customers and distinguish your business from others then don’t settle for just doing the bare minimum.
Anyone can offer a basic service. And if that’s all you do then you are leaving yourself wide open for a competitor to undercut you or steal your customers by offering more value.
Excellent customer service is about going the extra mile and adding a special touch to the way you connect with your customers. It doesn’t have to cost much.
You could add a thank you note with every order, send an e-card to wish someone a happy birthday, give an unexpected free gift to your subscribers or spend a few extra minutes to explain something to your client instead of rushing them off the phone when their time is up.
Even the way you thank people for subscribing to your newsletter using a service like Aweber can be tweaked so it’s friendly, warm and personal rather than the default message.
Providing good customer service is not rocket science and does not have to cost the earth. It is about caring about your customers and making sure every interaction they have with you is pleasant and professional.
It is about delivering what you say you will and not shying away when things go wrong. Adding special touches will also make you more memorable and help you stand out in the face of competition.
Remember success in business is less about constantly winning new customers and more about keeping your current ones. If you take care of your customers you will have their loyalty for life. This will help you build a sustainable business that will thrive for many years to come.
Is customer service a big deal for you? What strategies are you using to find and keep your customers?