I just had an unpleasant experience with one of my online vendors and I’m steaming mad. It’s a classic example of what NOT to do if you care about your customers and want to keep them. Long story short, it was time to renew an annual service I’ve been using for many years. Typically, it’s a simple, automatic process; I get an email saying I’ve been renewed – done.
Not this time, apparently they had an old expiration date on my credit card. Trying to correct it started a cascade of multiple, frustrating, international email correspondences that lasted over 10 days (no billing department phone number available). The unresolved outcome culminated in my credit card getting “locked out” which I didn’t discover until I was in the grocery store, with a cart full of food and a declined credit card. Can you feel my blood pressure going through the roof?
Enough ranting – the point I want to make is – your customers are the most valuable aspect of your business and they need to know it. How likely do you think I will be to refer future business to this company, let alone do future business with them myself?
When was the last time you really thought about the kind of experience your customers were having while doing business with you? And, I’m not only talking about when there was a problem! What defines the kind of outstanding customer service that will make your customers want to stay with you and send business your way?
I’ll give you a hint- it takes more than just being nice. Sure, the staff at the company I was dealing with were very nice but being nice isn’t enough – it takes intention, training and a company culture committed to providing excellent customer service that permeates every aspect of what you do.
Be Your Customer
Step into your customer’s shoes. Experience for yourself every aspect of what your customer sees, feels and hears when interacting with your company. Stand in line, call your billing department. What is it like to visit your website or read your collateral materials with fresh eyes? Is yours a company that’s easy and a pleasure to do business with?
Keep Your Promise
Does what you put out there into the world match what your customer is receiving or perceiving? Every interaction involves a promise. Some of them are direct; your product actually works, and some of them are subtle, your waiting room inspires peace and tranquility to support the body work you offer. Keep your word to you customer, after all it’s your integrity on the line.
Don’t let your fear of conflict make you procrastinate in handling difficult situations. A speedy and direct approach to resolution builds good will. Making a customer wait for communication only adds to their frustration and dissatisfaction. Get over your fear of criticism and put the customer first.
Be Systems Focused
It’s been demonstrated by leading edge organizational consultants that the lion’s share of company problems are system not people related. In my case, the system problem was the customer service department was domestic and the billing department was over seas and there was no ability for the two to access each others data OR communicate by phone with each other. Clearly a system problem. Review your systems and make sure they are efficient and customer focused. Are you unknowingly making your customer jump through hoops because the system seems like a good idea to you?
Empower Your People
As they say, the fish stinks from the head down. It has to start with you, the owner. You need to set policy and model the kind of culture and interaction you want your customers to experience. You also need to commit to providing excellent customer service to your internal customers – your staff. If you treat them well, they will treat your customers well. Train them, make sure they are empowered to put customer service first.
As hard as it may be to hear difficult feedback from customers, it’s the greatest gift they can offer you. See if you can make a shift from dismissing complaints to welcoming the dissenting voice. If you can stay open and truly interested in learning what your customers want and need you will be assuring your own success. A company needs to stay agile and passionate about delivering what is truly needed or wanted in the marketplace not what it thinks the marketplace needs or wants.
I challenge you to take an in depth look at your customer service policies and culture and find out if you REALLY value your customers.
It’s YOUR life…imagine the possibilities!