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Small Business Customer Service: Are You Doing Enough?
By Bob Prosen
There’s no question, your customer service strategy had better be stellar for long-term success — especially if you are a small business.
You also want to differentiate your business from others that are doing the exact same thing you are.
In fact, if you want your business to shine when it comes to customer service improvement, then you’ll have to make some investments. But what and how much should you invest?
I’m about to tell you how to evaluate your company’s level of customer service, identify your shortcomings, implement best practices for customer service improvement and dramatically increase your company’s level of customer service.
Here are some of the aspects of your customer service strategy you must evaluate:
• Automated ordering or speaking with a live person
• Automated customer service, online FAQs or the ability to speak with a customer service representative
• 24 hour service or normal business hours
• Follow up after the sale
• Customer satisfaction surveys
• Willingness to change internal processes to meet customer needs
• The lifetime value of a customer
• Warranties and guarantees
• Internal staff training
• Technology and support systems
If you care about delivering the best possible small business customer service then decide on each of the above items from your customer’s point of view.
If your customers are willing to pay a premium for your product or service that is called “differentiation.” If they won’t, then investing more in customer service than your competition is a waste of your precious resources.
Let me explain.
Taking Your Small Business Customer Service To Another Level
When I started The Prosen Center over ten years ago my customer service strategy was to ensure that every one of my clients would be a positive reference for me.
To ensure this outcome I knew I had to over deliver via the highest quality service possible.
I also took the stance that the customer is always right and that I would do whatever I needed to do in order to meet their expectations.
That’s easy to say, but in reality it’s a tall order because saying it and managing to do it are two very different things! I know about this because, like many small businesses owners, I have had to come through on some pretty extreme customer requests.
For example, about a year ago I was working with a great client under my company’s standard contract agreement. I delivered an incredible day of small business leadership training, and my office then issued our usual invoice. Now bear in mind that this is the same invoice that we’ve been using for years without any issues or complaints, but much to my surprise my client objected to the investment!
As it turned out, they hadn’t thoroughly read the agreement.
At this point, I had a decision to make.
Even though the difference was significant, after careful thought, I decided to accept the payment the customer expected to pay, and stuck with my commitment that “the customer is always right.”
I know this is not the way others usually handle these situations, but I had to be true to my own beliefs and also take into account the lifetime value of my customer.
Looking back, that was the smartest small business customer service decision I could have made.
Since then this client has paved the way for me to win more clients, and even extended our agreement for additional services. I didn’t expect any of these opportunities when I chose principles over money, but that was a loss I was willing to take, and it paid off in the end.
Now, if you’re like me you’ve had your fill of bad customer service.
It seems that the quality of service in general keeps going downhill – but then, companies that provide good service stand out, don’t they?
Just think what your customers would say if your company was one of those outstanding service providers!
Does Your Customer Service Strategy Fall Short?
Here’s a customer experience I had myself just last week, and it’s worth thinking about with regards to your own small business customer service strategy.
My home air conditioning unit failed. To make matters worse it was 106 degrees that day.
So I called my go-to HVAC company and they came right out to look at my problem. It ended up being a bad circuit board that took 45 minutes to replace.
The final cost? $700. Gulp! But it was 106 outside so I didn’t argue about the price.
After they left I got curious and decided to check prices for that circuit board on the internet. I found out the exact same part was available from several suppliers for $200!
Now, you know I believe in making a profit, but this bordered on gouging. So I called the company to get the owner’s email address and promptly sent her a message. To my surprise I received a personal phone call the following day from the owner herself that ended with an apology and a $200 refund.
On the one hand I was delighted with the way they handled my complaint. On the other hand I couldn’t help thinking about all of their other unsuspecting customers who continue to be overcharged. I wonder if they’ll reconsider their customer service strategy as a result of my feedback?
What do you think? Did this company handle my complaint the right way? If you were me would you keep doing business with them? Would you recommend them to your friends and family?
It’s true that our reputation is all we have, so you can see how critical it is to never let up on customer service improvement, and to always handle your customers’ issues in a way that keeps your good reputation intact.
Just like you, I want all of my clients to say great things about me to everybody they know. And I know I have set the bar high for myself, but I’m willing to go the extra distance because my reputation is worth it.
Making the following practices part of your company culture will deeply impress your customers. Keep in mind, though, that if done wrong, any of these can ruin that impression!
• Minimize surprises
• Always tell the truth. Problems are going to happen. How you handle them is what really matters
• Follow up on your promises and deliver on your commitments
• Provide answers – not excuses
• Own up to your mistakes and don’t blame others
• When problems do occur, tell your customer what happened and when it will be fixed. Keep them updated along the way and let them know what’s being done to ensure that same problem won’t happen again to someone else
These really are simple rules to follow. It’s up to you to make sure your entire team understands and follows through. Customers need to be able to trust that they will be treated right, no matter who they deal with from your company.
It’s a well known fact that it costs a lot more to win a new customer than it does to keep the ones you already have. Do you know for certain how your people respond to your customers?
What is the level of small business customer service your employees consistently provide?
Are you happy with the way your customers are treated?
Is your customer service strategy being implemented the way you expect it to be?
If not, take action now! And if you don’t know? Well, you’ve got work to do!
September 25, 2010