Customer service sells. Offline and online, customers are looking for hassle-free, convenient, pleasant shopping. “Gone are the days when the customer overlooked poor service because the price was discounted. Finding ways to exceed the customers' expectations is the key” (Terry Wooten, “Providing Good Customer Service”).
Sleep Country Canada is one example of a Canadian retailer that has found ways to do this.
Have you ever seen a Sleep Country Canada ad? Like many successful ads, they feature testimonials by satisfied customers. But listen closely. Why are these customers so satisfied? They’re talking about the service, not the product. They say things such as, “They came to deliver my mattress just when they said they would.” And “I was so impressed when I saw the men putting on those little booties before they walked into my house.”
Christine Magee, the president of Sleep Country Canada, knows that good customer service is important to her business' potential customers. She also knows that there are a lot of other companies that sell mattresses. But the way Sleep Country Canada delivers the mattresses they sell provides an illustration of our first customer service tip:
1) Provide customer service that distinguishes your business from your competitors.
The best product in the world is just going to stay on the shelves and get dusty if you don’t support it with customer service that makes your product "better" than the identical product offered by the competition.
The success of Sleep Country Canada also illustrates the power of word-of-mouth. Good customer service not only makes your customer want to come back and do more business with your company; it also encourages your customer to recommend your business to his or her friends. The second customer service tip we can draw from Sleep Country Canada's example is:
2) Solicit and use testimonials from your satisfied customers.
Authentic testimonials from actual satisfied customers can be very powerful sales tools. But most customers, no matter how satisfied, won't think to volunteer their endorsement. So ask them - and then use their testimonials to encourage others to try your products or services. The third customer service tip that Sleep Country Canada's customer service practices provides is a very simple one, but it's at the core of delivering good customer service:
3) Deliver on your customer service promises.
In the Sleep Country Canada example, it's delivering a mattress on time. For your business, it might be showing up to do an estimate when you said you would, or dealing with a complaint expeditiously. Customer service that falls through on the follow through is no customer service at all.
Good customer service is also an important ingredient of Sears Canada's success. Their customer service puts them head and shoulders above the competition. What customer service tips does Sears provide that we can apply to our own small businesses?
1) Make it easy for your customers to buy your product or service.
You don't have to go to a Sears outlet to buy Sears' products (although you can if you want to). And although Sears is the King of the catalog retailers, you don't even have to flip through a catalog nowadays; you can shop online if you prefer. Couple that availability with the capability of 24 hour a day, any day of the week telephone shopping, and you've got unbeatable customer convenience.
2) Establish clear return and refund policies that provide customer satisfaction.
When you shop at Sears, you know that you can return what you’ve purchased with absolutely no questions asked for a full refund. Before they computerized their catalog system, if something you ordered wasn’t available, they would substitute an item of equal or superior quality – normally, superior. These two aspects of their customer service endeared them to many customers, and set them apart from the competition. (Now that their system is computerized, it’s even more convenient, because they tell you right when you order it if the item is in stock or not.)
3) Develop a dependable supply chain and/or delivery system.
The third aspect of Sears' customer service that puts them at the apex of Canadian retailers is Sears' delivery system. Because of their delivery infrastructure, they can deliver the goods customers order to almost anywhere in Canada within three days. Quite an accomplishment.
Currently, Sears is busily providing lessons for online retailer wanna-bes. What does Sears have that many other online retailers don’t have? Customer service. Unlike many e-commerce web sites trying to sell online, Sears spent a great deal of time (and money) putting together their backend before they went online.
True, Sears was ideally suited to become an online retailer because of the nature of their business. My point is that even if Sears didn’t already have such an intensive delivery infrastructure set up, they would have to set it up before they tried to be an online retailer, expecting to sell and deliver goods all over the country.
Too many e-commerce web sites treat delivery logistics as an afterthought; they seem to want to put the glossy catalog online and “see how it goes” before bothering to develop the backend. These are companies that offer customer dis-service instead of customer service!
Small businesses can pick up a lot of customer service tips from bigger businesses such as Sleep Country Canada and Sears. Put yourself in your customer's place. How easy is it for him or her to find out about and purchase your products or services? What policies do you have in place to deal with his or her problems in a way that will satisfy the customer? And how is your customer service "better" than the customer service provided by your competitors? Improving your customer service can also improve your business' bottom line.