Small businesses must take advantage of every possible competitive advantage to survive and thrive. Strong customer service will distinguish you from your competitors and contribute to the strength of your business reputation. Make it a point to provide the best service to every customer and potential customer.
What does it take to keep customers coming back to your business? It’s simple: Every customer interaction has to be a positive one. Sound like an impossible standard? It isn’t. Listen, it’s impossible to satisfy 100% of your customers during 100% of their transactions. There will be dissatisfied customers—the way your small business handles those dissatisfied customers is the key to keep them coming back.
Excellent service begins with companywide policies and procedures built around positive customer interactions. How do you want your employees to treat customers? What are the standard offerings employees should provide customers? Most importantly, what procedures should employees follow when a customer is dissatisfied?
“I started my business because I was a frustrated customer and I knew there had to be a better way,” said Stuart Hunter, founder of roll: bicycle shops. “Finding the problems that customers encounter goes hand-in-hand with finding the problems that a business needs to solve. It’s been really critical for us to understand what the roadblocks are to better serve customers and to ignore the way that things have always been done.”
Once you’ve determined how employees should address customers’ requests, you’ll need to develop training around those values. In addition to training, consider ways of rewarding employees who carry out your policies and deliver fantastic customer service.
“My advice to other business owners is that you have to empower your employees,” said Steve Ozment, co-owner of Flowerama Columbus flower shops. “They are seeing things from a different angle, seeing things in a different way than you can see them. More often than not, your employees have the answers if you just ask them. What do you think? How would you handle this? It’s amazing, the solutions that we’ve come up with over the years.”
You don’t have to start from scratch building your customer service policies. Here are a few proven strategies:
- Every customer interaction should be polite and professional
- Employees should greet in-person customers pleasantly and quickly
- Customers should receive the same courtesy and service from employees over the telephone, in emails and on social media as they would in person
- Employees should address complaints politely, to the best of their ability—and they should know when to involve management in fixing a customer issue
- Encourage employees to call you in to help satisfy a customer anytime they feel overwhelmed
Pay close attention to that last pointer. Dissatisfied customers can be very challenging, and defensive, stressed-out employees can make bad situations worse. A truly awful interaction could cost you a customer and an employee if things escalate out of control. As a small business owner, your customers have made the choice to support you; show them they made the right decision. Make yourself available to support your employees and keep your customers happy.
Of course, you may not always be available to remedy every customer complaint. Give your employees your blessing to put customers in touch with you directly. Respond to any and all complaints within 24 hours. Take the time to really listen to your customers’ feedback. It may be difficult—after all, you’re deeply invested in your business—but valid criticism can help improve your business in ways you may not have considered. A customer willing to take the time to tell you where you went wrong and give you another shot is valuable.
Approach every customer interaction as an opportunity to improve. Develop policies and procedures that instill that value in every single employee, even those who rarely deal directly with customers. This will ensure that customer service is part of your company’s DNA.
Remember, a bad experience doesn’t need to be the end of your relationship with a customer. How you handle those situations will define your company’s culture and public reputation. Not only can you overcome a complaint to form a long-term bond, you might also generate good word-of-mouth advertising from addressing a complaint quickly and thoroughly
By Ford Commercial Vehicles
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