Excellent customer service is the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently exceed the customer's expectations…
No one is certain just where this definition came from, but it seems to be the one most experts agree best articulates just what customer service is all about. Trouble is that many businesses, no matter what their size, don’t seem to understand just how important delivering excellent customer service is to their bottom line.
A recent international survey of consumers in 16 major industrialized countries is the first large-scale attempt to place economic value on the lost revenue that results from customer service NOT meeting consumer expectations. Sponsored by Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, Inc. (an Alcatel-Lucent company) in collaboration with industry analysts at Datamonitor/Ovum and conducted by Greenfield Online, the study’s findings estimate losses due to poor customer service at well north of $300 billion per year. That’s not chump change!
The study focused on consumer experiences with businesses primarily via the web, through contact centers and with their mobile devices, all of which tend to be the tools of larger companies. However, its findings are chock full of valuable insights into consumer perceptions about customer service as a whole. And owners of other kinds of businesses, such as home-based businesses, distributorships, licensee operations and/or other small franchises, would do well to pay attention.
Defining Good Customer Service
Putting a price tag on the importance of customer service was not the study’s only significant outcome. Consumers were polled on which factors make the biggest difference in improving their overall satisfaction levels when dealing with a company. The overwhelming majority reported that their most rewarding customer service experiences occur when the company representative they are dealing with is competent and capable. Furthermore, study participants ranked competency among the four key things that make for a satisfying customer service experience, the other three being convenience, proactive engagement and personalization.
While it is true that these factors were cited by consumers as important in the context of their interactions with larger companies, they represent four key areas in which any home-based business, distributorship, licensee or other small franchise can and must also strive for excellence, especially when times are tight. Any good business owner knows that consumers are more careful than ever in a down-turned economy to spend their precious, hard-earned money with companies they trust and that give them more for their money in every way, not less. Having a good, strong customer service program that is grounded in the four principles highlighted in the study’s findings is a good investment of time and resources no matter which way the winds of economic change are blowing.
Being competent is being capable. For someone who is a one-person shop, the challenge is not as great. But, for owners of home-based and other small businesses with employees, employees only become capable when they are well trained and empowered. Training employees to know everything about your company’s products and services is important, but training them to provide good customer service is equally if not more so.
Customer service training does not have to be an expensive endeavor. In fact, just taking an afternoon to do some role playing can be extremely valuable. As a home-based or other small business owner, you’ve most likely encountered the worst of the worst in your customers. No one can play it better than you can. Assume the role of a difficult customer. Let your employee get a real taste of what he/she might encounter on the job, and then arm that person with the tools necessary to respond appropriately.
Take time to describe and play out with your employees what it is you expect of them when it comes to phone etiquette, customer greetings and even their attitude and demeanor with customers. Teach them that the integrity of your company name rests on their ability to “under commit and over deliver” on their promises.
Most important, empower them to make decisions by giving them the authority to do so when it is appropriate. When your employees make sound customer service decisions, make sure to praise their efforts. When they slip up, take it as a learning experience for everyone. Work through what could and should have been done differently together so that everyone can learn from the mistakes that were made, including you.
Consumers today want to deal with companies that make their busy lives run more smoothly, not that add to their stresses of daily living. Simple things like answering the phone when it rings can make all the difference in how your company is perceived by potential customers.
Convenience can also mean going the extra mile to save a customer a trip, say offering to meet them at their home to review plans for an upcoming job. It can mean making sure you have payment processing options available to suit their budget and schedule. Being open at odd hours that happen to be when most of your customers want to interact with you can be what sets you apart. Assembling a marketing folder that already lays out how you stack up against your competition saves them critical time in deciding whether or not they want to buy your product or service.
Whatever makes doing business with you and your company easy, affordable and positive is what you need to be doing. After all, the harder a customer has to work to buy something from you or work with you, the more likely he/she would just as soon take their business somewhere else.
Proactive means acting in advance to deal with potential difficulty, to be anticipatory. Customers want to feel like any potential problems that might arise when they are working with a home-based or other small business, such as a distributorship, licensee or franchise, will be solved to their satisfaction without incident. Your business’ assurance in the form of a customer satisfaction guarantee not only conveys confidence in your company and its ability to do a good job, it also proactively assures your clientele that should any unforeseen challenges present themselves, they will be handled promptly and without conflict.
Anticipating your customers’ needs also means seeking out their feedback as to what you do well as a company and what you could be doing better. Customers who are actively solicited for their input are more apt to feel appreciated and heard. Listen to them. They are your finest measure of how well you are doing in the marketplace. When customers make complaints, try to look on them as important data that you need in order to get it right the next time. Getting defensive or making excuses for why things were not done right is rarely effective. In fact, it often backfires and leaves both you and your customer feeling like nothing was accomplished save the establishment of some ill will.
All business is personal. Sure, we like to talk in terms of companies this and home-based businesses that, and we love to say, “Business is business” and “It’s not personal.” But is it, and isn’t it? Truth is, at the end of every business day, it’s still all about people dealing with people. Recognizing just how important each exchange is between you and your staff and every other person you come into contact with on any given day can make all the difference.
Teach your employees that friendliness is important. A sour attitude is not good for your company’s image. Encourage them to inquire as to how else they can be of service at the close of every customer exchange.
Think about how you can offer added value to your customers where your competition is not. Perhaps it is surprising them with a small gift upon completion of your most recent job for them, or maybe just a note of appreciation. Or, maybe it’s offering them a gift card to a favorite local restaurant if they give you a certain number of referrals.
What’s important to remember is that the steps you take as a home-based or other small business person to ensure your customers feel special will directly translate into positive word-of-mouth, increased loyalty and, ultimately, profitability…even when times are tough. And as things begin to improve, and they most certainly will, you’ll be poised for even greater success!