How much emphasis do you place on good customer service? Is it a top priority or just another facet of your business operations? Making sure your customers are happy may seem like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of small businesses fail to deliver in this critical area and dwindling sales are all they have to show for it.
So if customer service isn’t a core process in your business, what can you do to turn things around?
Ask customers what they want. Too many businesses assume their products or services meet the needs of their customers, but they don’t have information to back up those assumptions. Successful businesses, on the other hand, dedicate time and energy to learning precisely how to serve their target market. They encourage customers to call, send letters and emails, take part in surveys and other types of online communications.
Try contacting a handful of randomly chosen customers (or two or three of your top customers) and asking them: “Are you satisfied with our level of service? What can we do to improve our service?” Hearing directly from customers is often an eye-opening experience.
Have a plan to solve problems. Some businesses have policies in place to address customer issues while others tend to play it by ear. It’s not possible to foresee every negative situation involving your product or service, but you can probably imagine a few scenarios—in which case, it’s worth determining in advance what to do if such an issue arises.
What’s your current time-frame for responding to customer inquiries? If your response takes longer than 24 hours, that’s a problem. When a customer takes the time to comment or complain—let alone place an order—successful businesses focus on a quick response. This not only hastens resolution of any problem, it shows respect for the customer, an attitude that customer won’t soon forget.
Set up a system whereby incoming customer phone calls or emails are quickly logged and a reply is put in motion. If a particular issue can’t be quickly resolved, let the customer know you’re working on a solution and will get back to them by a specified time. Then follow through and stick to your promise.
Hire people with the right customer service skills. While all of your employees should understand the value of great customer service, individuals on the front line—from receptionists to salespeople—must have outstanding customer service skills.
A certain type of personality excels in this area and you should be able to pinpoint those people during the hiring process. Ask job candidates to talk about past experiences with customer care, particularly situations where things went wrong. How did they handle unhappy customers? Do they have the attitude and skill to do the same when working for you?
Empower employees to handle complaints. Nothing sticks in a customer’s craw more than bringing a problem to an employee’s attention and being told, “I can’t help you with this, but I’ll let someone else know.” Do you think that customer will continue to buy from that business?
If you’ve hired the right people, give them authority to resolve most problems on the spot. Upon occasion they might make a wrong decision, but rather than punish them, treat the situation like a learning experience—so in the future everyone knows what the best approach should be.
Realize that not all customers are worth your time and energy. Sadly, the customer isn’t always right—at least, not right for your business. Some customers are chronically unhappy with your service or otherwise so demanding they drain resources better used for other customers. In such cases, make the tough decision to let those customers go. Focus instead on always pleasing customers who benefit from your products or services and who remain loyal to your business year after year.