August 8th, 2009 12:17 EST
Customer Service Is Not Customer Serve Us
All businesses need customers. Sometimes they`re called clients or patients. Whatever term you use for the folks, or companies who keep the revenue flowing into your enterprise they all need one very important thing, care.
Years ago I insisted that the people who worked for my company know a basic philosophical tenet. One that the company was founded on and one that could not be strayed from, People Before Profits " was something that was extremely important to me, and the basis of what we, as an organization stood for.
The customer came first, period. They were the ones who told others how well we treated them. They were the ones who would come back, time and time again to buy from us. They were the ones who helped us expand and who monitored our service. They were they ones who wore our products and premiums. They were the ones who paid our salaries, rents, utilities, and enabled us to buy more products to sell them. And without them there would be no business.
Too often in today`s society we find that customer service, relations and care has evaporated like water that sits in a glass for days without anyone paying attention to it.
And that analogy is what causes customers to run to competitors.
How often have you walked into a department store, supermarket, boutique, law firm, accounting firm, insurance or doctor`s office only to find that there`s no one available to help you. You wait, scream out for help and still not a soul comes forward or worse, when they do, it`s with an attitude that you`re interrupting their activities, personal phone conversation, water cooler gossip or whatever. You finally evaporate from the premises. A customer just waiting to hand over your hard earned money but frustrated when you realize that no one wants to take it. And the amazing fact is that all of us, even the employees who ignore you at their establishments, hate it when it`s done to them!
The problem really gets bizarre when you discover that the competition isn`t any better. In fact they pull off the coup de grace. They see you coming and walk in the back or pick up the phone make a call and when you ask a question they hold up a finger letting you know that you have to wait. HELP!
How do we avoid sending our hard fought for patrons from bolting out of sight.
First. Acknowledge people. And never, ever, ever say, Can I help you "? especially if you`re in retail.
Why? Because you already know what the answer is going to be ninety-five percent of the time. No thanks, just looking ". So why ask it?
The fact is we`re almost culturally programmed for that response. Instead, I suggest you start by greeting people with, Hi, have you visited us before "?
Of course that`s only if you don`t recognize them. If you do then Hi Pat, (or whatever their name is) glad to see you again " is a great why to acknowledge someone. We all like to be remembered by name and I urge you to learn how to remember your customers` names. Just that one element begins to build that all-important rapport.
If the customer is new and the response to your greeting is no, then you may want to say, Welcome, thanks for stopping in, I`m Dan, what`s your name "? Making someone feel like a guest in your establishment is very comforting.
Customers buy and carry on business relationships with people they like and feel care about them.
Keep a list of pertinent facts about each customer. Their spouse`s name, kids` names, likes, dislikes, birthdays, etc. Then you can start to do and say those little things that help build a solid relationship.
We have another major problem in our business world today, voice mail!
When a customer leaves you a voice mail, please make sure you get back to them quickly, even if you don`t have an answer to their question or the information they requested. Call them and tell them that. Being in voice mail hell is one of the most frustrating aspects of business today.
If you can, have a person answer your phones.
Always put yourself in the customers` place and ask yourself how you would like to be treated. The golden rule really is golden when it comes to business.
When you show respect for your customers it comes back many times over. It`s easier to harvest existing customers that it is to get new ones. And when you`re really good at treating your current customers right, they`ll help you get new ones!
Now that we`ve got acknowledgement and respect in order, we have to make sure that we listen to our customers. Asking them probing questions and allowing them to respond or giving them the opportunity to vent " and/or tell us what`s on their mind without interrupting enables us to understand their needs and react favorably to them.
Once you understand their needs and wants then you must follow-up on their requests efficiently and effectively.
A timely response is worth a thousand phone calls. Because that`s what it will seem like you`re getting from your frustrated customer. Again, respond to them even if you don`t have all the information. We all know what it`s like to wait for a response that seems like it takes forever.
Show reliability in what you do. If you can`t be reliable for your customers then it won`t be long before you won`t have to be, because you won`t have any customers left!
Not that long ago I was reading a survey that listed the reasons why customers defected. The list was extremely revealing.
· 3% relocated
· 5% developed new relationships (i.e. my brother-in-law just became a CPA and if I don`t use him there`ll be big problems)
· 9% defect for competitive reasons (i.e. I have to rearrange my finances and the store across town is less expensive)
· 14% are unhappy with the product, service or location (i.e. it didn`t work for me and besides there`s another office much closer to my home now)
· 68% defect because of a negative attitude or apathy by the store or office employees, including management and ownership
SIXTY-EIGHT PERCENT. That`s appalling!
That means that over two-thirds of customers can be saved from defection with some empathy, care, consideration, help, listening ability and timely effective resolution.
How much money and time is wasted looking for new customers that could be saved by just holding on to old ones.
Another amazing thing to me is that these defections don`t happen over night. There is almost always a frustrating build-up and warning signs. The complaining begins and no one addresses the need. The customer`s shipment comes in wrong and the manufacturer`s office doesn`t respond quickly enough. The patient needs care and the doctor makes them wait forever. The claim needs to be filed and nobody returns the client`s call.
A call, an e-mail, a fax is all it takes at the beginning. Just a response.
Then begin to figure out what it`s going to take to turn the customer around and make them happy and start to do it.
Of course if keeping customers happy is what you do as a matter of policy, then you won`t have to turn too many customers around because they`ll already be facing in the right direction.
It`s also important that you fully understand what the problem really is. Never make assumptions.
And when it comes to rectifying the situation you may want to respond by asking the customer, If you were me what would you do "? And guess what, they`ll tell you. Of course there may be some extenuating circumstances that won`t allow you to do what they`ve requested but at least you have a started point that will enable you to satisfy the customer. You can follow their response with, You`ve made some good points and I`ll do the best I can to fulfill your requests, however in the case of A our policy won`t enable me to do that but what I can do is X, Y, or Z. Now let`s suppose you could pick one of those options which one would it be "? Obviously these are just suggestions that would be put into your situation, but they give you some dialogue to start with.
The customer will be more than happy to guide you along! And you can even begin to calm down the irate ones.
The goal of course is to never get to that point.
If you can be proactive rather than reactive you can also save a lot of problems. If you know that a shipment will be late, then call the customer first. If you have an overflow of patients call those scheduled or tell those in the waiting room that it may be a bit longer wait but you`ll do the best that you can. You the doctor should do that and not the staff. Anything that will help them feel more comfortable.
In addition it is important to keep your customers informed about new procedures, inventory, services, etc. This doesn`t mean that you only send them a newsletter once a month. Call them and tell them what`s going on.
If you`re into serving them then do it! Let them know that you`re aware of their desires (i.e. the customer who likes to buy the latest items should be called when a shipment comes in, the one who could benefit from a change in a legal code should be updated, etc.).
Quality customer service has another major factor. More than anything it`s about how you view yourself. Do you take pride in what you do? Do you have self-respect? Do you care about people and how what you do affects them. Are you secure enough to admit your own mistakes and shortcomings and do something about them? Do you realize that what you do reflects positively or negatively on you? Customer service is as much about you and your organization as it is about your customers.
Let`s review the points of quality customer service:
· The customer comes first
· Acknowledge every customer and/or prospect
· Show respect
· Follow-up effectively and efficiently
· Respond in a timely manner
· Be reliable
· Keep your customers informed
· Take pride in what you do
In today`s environment with the new " economy intermingling with the old " it becomes more and more apparent that quality customer service is vitally important.
The e-business boom " has illustrated new wrinkles to old problems.
Buying and selling over the web has created new and uneasy situations and frustrations. As the world navigates through pages and pages of business it has become evident that the lack of personal interaction can devastate these new ventures.
For many of these e-businesses to succeed they may have to revert to an old way of doing business. The telephone. How many individuals have run into problems on the web and become exasperated trying to figure out how to get something done. If only there was a phone number that could be called that was readily available and/or didn`t have a maze of voice mail instructions that have you pulling the last vestiges of hair out of your head before giving up.
If your business is e-business make it easy for your customers to find you and when necessary get help in a quick and concise manner without them needing something to calm them down.
Nothing will ever replace personal interaction.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned a phrase that has been a part of my business philosophy from my first day in business, People Before Profits ". It may sound like a contradiction in terms in this capitalist make lots of money fast " environment, however I`ve found it to be just the opposite.
If you put People Before Profits " it won`t be long before you start seeing more and more business. And with that business, more and more profit.
Quality customer service is more than three little words. It`s a credo that should lead your business into the world of growth and prosperity.
Dan Goldberg is a keynote speaker and the President of Dan Goldberg Consulting, L.L.C. a training, coaching and business development firm located in the Philadelphia, PA area. He is the author of the book Lighten Up and Lead " co-author (with Don Martin) of the book The Entrepreneur`s Guide to Successful Leadership, " and author of The Six Steps To Solid Sales Success " and The Seven Elements of Successful Management " programs and the audio tape Growing A Successful Business ". You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his website at www.dangoldberg.com or reach him at (215) 233-5352