Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. You can offer promotions and slash prices to bring in as many new customers as you want, but unless you can get some of those customers to come back, your business won't be profitable for long. Good customer service is all about sending the customers away happy - and then bringing them back again. Ideally, they are happy enough to pass positive feedback about your business along to others, who may then try your product or service for themselves and, in turn, become repeat customers. If you're a good salesperson, you can sell anything to anyone once. But it will be your approach to customer service that determines whether or not you’ll ever be able to sell that person anything else. The essence of good customer service is forming a relationship with customers – a relationship that that individual customer feels that he would like to pursue. How do you go about forming such a relationship? By remembering the one true secret of good customer service and acting accordingly; "You will be judged by what you do, not what you say." I know this verges on the kind of statement that's often seen on a sampler, but providing good customer service IS a simple thing. If you truly want to have good customer service, all you have to do is ensure that your business consistently does these things:
1) Answer your phone. Get call forwarding. Or an answering service. Hire staff if you need to. But make sure that someone is picking up the phone when someone calls your business. (Notice I say "someone." People who call want to talk to a live person, not a fake "recorded robot".) *Note: Our business has two phone lines, and we answer the phone during business hours, as a measure of ensuring that you will likely get a VOICE when you call. If we cannot pick up or have both lines going simultaneously, you can be sure we will return your call promptly. It benefits both of us - business owner as well as consumer - to be responsive, as this is the first link of the chain of events by which we, the business, are measured by you, the customer.
2) Don't make promises unless you can keep them. Reliability is one of the keys to any good relationship, and good customer service is no exception. If you say, “Your new bedroom furniture will be delivered on Tuesday”, make sure it is delivered on Tuesday. Otherwise, don't say it. The same rule applies to client appointments, deadlines, etc.. Think before you give any promise - because nothing annoys customers more than a broken one. *Note: We thoroughly agree with this! Shipping time frames are one promise we make to customers constantly. We just had a review left on our website a month or so ago that stated the product this customer ordered actually arrived earlier than promised. We like to hear that...
3) Listen to your customers. Is there anything more exasperating than telling someone what you want or what your problem is and then discovering that that person hasn't been paying attention and needs to have it explained again? From a customer's point of view, I doubt it. Can the sales pitches and the product babble. Let your customer talk and show him that you are listening by making the appropriate responses, such as suggesting how to solve the problem. *We will always do whatever we can to honor your requests and work with you through any difficulties. This is our policy.
4) Deal with complaints. No one likes hearing complaints, and many of us have developed a reflex shrug, saying, "You can't please all the people all the time". Maybe not, but if you give the complaint your attention, you may be able to please this one person this one time - and position your business to reap the benefits of good customer service. *Absolutely. We want to make things right with our customers, always. We will work with you to be sure you walk away from a transaction with us completely satisfied. Again, this is our policy.
5) Be helpful - even if there's no immediate profit in it. The other day I popped into a local watch shop because I had lost the small piece that clips the pieces of my watch band together. When I explained the problem, the proprietor said that he thought he might have one lying around. He found it, attached it to my watch band – and charged me nothing! Where do you think I'll go when I need a new watch band or even a new watch? And how many people do you think I've told this story to? We concur with this one, too. We field many calls during the day with questions about sales we are running, product information, general questions about a product you own for which we can offer support, etc. We are happy to help however we can. As you say, it may not benefit us initially, but, speaking as a customer, I believe that having a positive interaction with a business who is genuinely willing to help someone for no immediate gain most certainly lays the groundwork for a potential customer.
6) Train your staff to always be helpful, courteous, and knowledgeable. Do it yourself or hire someone to train them. Talk to them about good customer service and what it is (and isn't) regularly. Most importantly, give every member of your staff enough information and power to make those small customer-pleasing decisions, so he never has to say, "I don't know, but so-and-so will be back at..." *Only knowledgeable staff answers the phones, so we've got that covered...And to add to this point, it's just sensible practice. Make things as easy as possible for the customer. If a customer were to call "business #1" and speak to someone who was not able to answer their questions, requiring a call back from someone else, this is an interruption in the smooth flow of business. While waiting for a callback, that customer might make another call to business #2, speak to someone directly and close a deal like that [snap fingers]. MORAL? business #1 missed the boat...
7) Take the extra step. For instance, if someone walks into your store and asks you to help them find something, don't just say, "It's in Aisle 3". Lead the customer to the item. Better yet, wait and see if he has questions about it, or further needs. Whatever the extra step may be, if you want to provide good customer service, take it. They may not say so to you, but people notice when people make an extra effort and will tell other people. *We find it is important to "read people" and proceed from there. If the customer just wants to browse, we allow them to do so and give them their space--it's never an enjoyable situation to have someone shadowing you if you simply want to look around. It feels like seller pressure. If they are inquiring about a specific product, we always lead them to it, and will give them as much information as we can, and converse with them about their needs and goals. We are strong in the belief that our products sell themselves. We research what we sell to a great degree, and are confident in the choices we've made to represent our product line.
8) Throw in something extra. Whether it's a coupon for a future discount, additional information on how to use the product, or a genuine smile, people love to get more than they thought they were getting. And don’t think that a gesture has to be large to be effective. The local art framer that we use attaches a package of picture hangers to every picture he frames. A small thing, but so appreciated.
*We do this often! We periodically run sales that offer something free. Whether it's a stainless steel top for a tool box or a free socket set, or a free service jack with a lift. We try to create attractive packages with our products as well, to offer the customer more bang for their buck.
If you apply these eight simple rules consistently, your business will become known for its good customer service. And the best part? The irony of good customer service is that over time it will bring in more new customers than promotions and price slashing ever did!