Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Week 42 - Don't Fall at the Last Hurdle

Incorrect perceptions are one thing to deal with but it is far more difficult to recover when your staff have mistreated a customer or offered less than perfect service. Many large and successful companies today openly state that their employees are the number one priority, ahead of customers. This makes sense when you think about it. How can you treat your employees as a second or third priority and then expect them to offer the best possible service to your customers?

The old chestnut that the customer is always right is wrong. As a business owner, you can kick and scream and abuse your customers and put up offensive signs like “no refunds” or you can attack the problem another way. As I have already explained, consistency is a key element in your customer service plan so whether you are good or bad, at least be consistent. Consistent, systematic and friendly customer service can turn almost any business owner into a success yet so often we see business owners making an effort in only one or two of these areas. The real key (just like your approach to marketing) is to get four key areas right, no exceptions:
  1. The outward facing policies in your business
  2. The attitudes of your employees
  3. The business systems that support your employees work
  4. Gaining respect and understanding (your attitude as the owner)

Let’s look at the first area, your outward facing policies (our rules for engaging the customer) – the other three areas will be covered over the following weeks.

The customer service experience obviously begins when somebody walks into or calls your business. At this point there are already certain rules and regulations you have in place for dealing with the customers and these can be presented in a number of different ways. What you should be striving for in this area is making doing business with you easy, appealing and even fun! Doing the bare minimum is unlikely to thrill your customers. For example, when you go to the supermarket and the cashier asks “how are you?” Do you feel good about that? Not really, because you expect them to ask that, just as you expect them to be courteous and offer an efficient service.

Providing unexpected services is awesome customer service. Doing what every one else does is simply expected and therefore does not have any real impact on your customers.

Before you shoot down this suggestion by saying that extra services cost your business money – consider this; providing awesome customer service and maintaining the profitability of your business is a balancing act. However, when performed in conjunction with the other techniques I have described, you should be able to charge more for your product or service. Some department stores are famous for going the extra mile; often they are not obligated to refund your money, but many do. They realize that the time spent arguing damages the relationship with the customer so they simply move on!

Don’t put up offensive signs, don’t argue with customers about your obligations and make it easy for them to spend money – “No Credit Cards” is not what I would call an inviting sign for potential customers.

Remember, your outward facing policies will create perceptions about your business, sometimes without you even knowing. Make sure your policies are not turning off potential customers.

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