The People aspect of business is really what it is all about. Rule #1: Think of customers as individuals. Once we think that way, we realize our business is our customer, not our product or services. Putting all the focus on the merchandise in our store, or the services our corporation offers, leaves out the most important component: each individual customer.
Keeping those individual customers in mind, here are some easy, down-home customer service tips to keep ’em coming back!
1. Remember there is no way that the quality of customer service can exceed the quality of the people who provide it. Think you can get by paying the lowest wage, giving the fewest of benefits, doing the least training for your employees? It will show.Companies don't help customers... people do.
2. Realize that your people will treat your customer the way they are treated. Employees take their cue from management. Do you greet your employees enthusiastically each day; are you polite in your dealings with them; do you try to accommodate their requests; do you listen to them when they speak? Consistent rude customer service is a reflection not as much on the employee as on management.
3. Do you know who your customers are? If a regular customer came in to your facility, would you recognize them? Could you call them by name? All of us like to feel important; calling someone by name is a simple way to do it and lets them know you value them as customers.
Recently I signed on with a new fitness center. I had been a member of another one for the past ten years, renewing my membership every six months when the notice arrived. I had been thinking about changing, joining the one nearer my home and with more state-of-the-art equipment. So when the renewal notice came, I didn’t renew. That was eight months ago. Was I contacted by the fitness center and asked why I did not renew? Did anyone telephone me to find out why an established customer was no longer a member or to tell me they missed me? No and No. My guess is they don’t even know they lost a long-time customer, and apparently wouldn’t care.
4. Do your customers know who you are? If they see you, would they recognize you? Could they call you by name? A visible management is an asset. At the Piccadilly Cafeteria chain, the pictures of the manager and the assistant manager are posted on a wall at the food selection line and it is a policy that the manager’s office is placed only a few feet from the cashier's stand at the end of that line, in full view of the customers, and with the door kept open. The manager is easily accessible and there is no doubt about "who's in charge here". You have only to beckon to get a manager at your table to talk with you.
5. For good customer service, go the extra mile. Include a thank-you note in a customer's package; send a birthday card; clip the article when you see their name or photo in print; write a congratulatory note when they get a promotion. There are all sorts of ways for you to keep in touch with your customers and bring them closer to you.
6. Are your customers greeted when they walk in the door or at least within 30-40 seconds upon entering? Is it possible they could come in, look around, and go out without ever having their presence acknowledged? It is ironic it took a discount merchant known for price, not service, to teach the retail world the importance of greeting customers at the door. Could it be that’s because Sam Walton knew this simple but important gesture is a matter of respect, of saying "we appreciate your coming in," having nothing to do with the price of merchandise?
7. Give customers the benefit of the doubt. Proving to him why he’s wrong and you’re right isn’t worth losing a customer over. You will never win an argument with a customer, and you should never, ever put a customer in that position.
8. If a customer makes a request for something special, do everything you can to say yes. The fact that a customer cared enough to ask is all you need to know in trying to accommodate her. It may be an exception from your customer service policy, but (if it isn’t illegal) try to do it. Remember you are just making one exception for one customer, not making new policy. Mr. Marshall Field was right-on in his famous statement: "Give the lady what she wants."
9. Are your customer service associates properly trained in how to handle a customer complaint or an irate person? Give them guidelines for what to say and do in every conceivable case. People on the frontline of a situation play the most critical role in your customer’s experience. Make sure they know what to do and say to make that customer’s experience a positive, pleasant one.
10. Want to know what your customers think of your company? Ask them! Compose a "How're We Doing?" card and leave it at the exit or register stand, or include it in their next statement. Keep it short and simple. Ask things like: what it is they like; what they don’t like; what they would change; what you could do better; about their latest experience there, etc. To ensure the customer sends it in, have it pre-stamped. And if the customer has given their name and address, be sure to acknowledge receipt of the card.
Remember that the big money isn’t as much in winning customers as in keeping customers. Each individual customer’s perception of your company will determine how well you do this and that perception will depend on the level of customer service you provide.
Liz Tahir is an international marketing consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, whose mission is to help companies be more effective and profitable. Based in New Orleans, LA, USA, she can be contacted at 504-569-1670; by email or through her Web site at http://www.liztahir.com.