Great Expectations - are your customers satisfied?

Good customer service is an integral part of creating, maintaining and expanding the clientele of your small business. Even if your business is engaged in the sale of goods, it is effectively offering a service package to each customer that walks in the door. Customers take away an experience, not just an item. As such, a good business will consider their total relationship with their customers rather than just the end result.

Day-to-day customer service essentials

When reviewing your business's customer service practices, observe both the day-to-day interaction that you have with your customers as well as how you handle problems and issues that arise. Consider the following questions to help identify the weaknesses of your business's customer service strategies:

  • Are repeat customers remembered and given a personalised service?
  • Are problems and issues handled in a consistent manner?
  • Do sales staff maintain courtesy in all exchanges?  

An important aspect in addressing the first of these questions is to consider if you have dialogue with customers. Listen to your customers and look out for feedback on your existing service. A simple but powerful tool that many business owners ignore is to directly ask customers what you can do to make their lives easier. A customer will often pay more for a personal service, where they are not only being served but are aware that you know them and understand their preferences when catering to their needs. What they are paying for is peace of mind and an implicit promise that you will consider their personal situation.

Consistency in handling problems and complaints is important to ensure that customers are treated equally and there are uniform processes and procedures that occur in potentially high-stress situations. Complaints should be handled the same way across the board so that all customers have the same rights in transacting with the business. While customers should receive a personalised service where possible, a degree of formality must be maintained in complaints handling so as to correctly document and manage the complaint if it evolves to have more serious repercussions.

The behaviour of your sales staff is a crucial factor in determining the quality of your customer service. It is not enough for your employees to be available to answer the questions of your customers; sales staff must be thoroughly knowledgeable about the product and be aware of how to comfortably engage with a diverse range of customers. Both of these outcomes require ongoing training and a conscious commitment by employees to expand their interpersonal skills to deliver truly superior customer service. To read about effective staff training methods, see Dynamic staff training: a how-to guide in D&B Business Essentials >>

Different customers = different customer service

The needs of your customers will be different from business to business and consequently their motivations for purchasing your product or service will also be different. For example, business customers have higher demands than consumers; for a business customer any time delay on receiving a product or service impacts their business directly and can result in a monetary loss. This means that a business customer will often place more importance on reliability and accountability than a consumer, who is generally concerned with the most competitive price. To use this information to improve customer service in your business, you may tailor a more expensive delivery service or express service particularly for your business customers; conversely, you may offer regular customers a discount on the price of products or service in exchange for a delay on delivery.

Little changes create big results

It is also important to recognise that changes to your customer service need not mean huge overhauls to the way you are doing business. We have all heard the saying 'from little things, big things grow'; a small change or addition to the service you offer your customers can have a large effect. Examples of this include: a Laundromat that offers customers an interesting selection of books to read while they wait for their laundry; a beauty salon that provides tea, coffee and refreshments while patrons wait; or a repairer that makes a follow-up call after providing a product or service to ensure that the customer is satisfied. These changes are made at a grass roots level and require little effort on behalf of the business; yet by going beyond the call of duty they display a high-level of regard for customer satisfaction. Such small touches are often remembered by customers and make your business stand-out from competitors, especially if you are operating in an industry where there are many participants and deal in a streamlined product or service.

Having great sales without providing a great service is like stuffing money into a pocket full of holes. When you improve service, you improve what your business is offering overall and increase the chance of creating repeat customers and gaining new ones through word of mouth.

For more tips on how to create and retain customers, seeFive ways to win and keep customers in D&B Business Essentials >>

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