Many small business owners go to great lengths coming up with grandiose customer service ideas that they can tout in their marketing and advertising. These ideas are intended to attract new customers looking for something better. But often it’s the little things that get customers agitated and cause them to take their business elsewhere.
In short, customer relationships are often made or broken when something goes wrong. Getting customer service perks is nice. But fixing problems is where the rubber hits the road. If you don't have well-developed skills for recovering from a slipup, you'll lose a lot of customers.
In an age of increasingly heavy social media usage, it takes only one disgruntled customer to create a disaster. The internet has greatly amplified the customer's voice. A negative story about your business doesn’t have to “go viral” or even reach very many people to inflict damage. The amplification effect of a single person passing it along can cause you to lose a lot more than one sale. So it pays to have a strong service recovery plan in place.
The good news is that you can absolutely create and keep loyal customers in today's highly competitive economy. But you have to have the service skills to take care of them. When you do so, you can create clients for life and almost guarantee your success.
How does this happen in a small business? Here are five things you can do:
- Learn to recognize and truly understand your customer's situation. Think of your customers as unique individuals with different sets of needs. In other words, not all customers need the same type of service, and they don’t care about the same things. For example, someone with children will have different concerns from a busy businessperson. So you must train yourself and your employees to recognize these differences and adjust responses accordingly. Often this requires pausing to think for a minute about the context of the situation. Maybe the normal “rules” or response isn’t always appropriate. If the customer has made a special trip to try and resolve a problem, for example, that’s worth a lot more attention to getting it right – then and there – so they aren’t inconvenienced further.
- Deliver on what you tell the customer. I’m still waiting for my local health club to notify me they’d refunded an overcharge on my credit card – as they said they would do, twice, going back three days. Make sure everyone in your business understands that customer service is much more than reciting a tired phrase such as “someone will be right with you.” When there’s a problem, address it quickly and be specific about how – and when – it will be resolved. Then make absolutely certain you deliver on what you promised. The more information customers have, the better they will feel.
- Treat any second complaint like a dire emergency. Most people are fairly forgiving after one mistake – assuming you address it promptly. But when you get a second complaint from the same person or business, it's time to go into emergency mode. At that point there's no room for further delay or error. If you want to keep your customer or client, you must make sure the problem is resolved immediately.
- Instill the service concept top to bottom at your business. Make it a team effort. Don't let employees “silo” your business by approaching customer service only from the narrow perspective of their own particular job. Make sure everyone understands the customer service plan and that everyone knows how to work together to solve problems. There’s no such excuse as “it’s not my area.”
- Don't assume customers will give you a second chance. Think about it this way: If a customer has taken the time to call you about a problem, you are already lucky, so you'd better take care of it fast. You don't always get a chance to make it right. Often, customers will just move on.
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