When launching a new small business or working hard to grow an existing one, we can get so caught up in looking for ways to promote our business and bring in revenue, that we can forget one of the most important factors in our short and long-term success: what it means to deliver great customer service.
While it is important that we get our 'ducks in a row' before we launch our business and pay attention to them while we are growing it, at the core of everything we do needs to be the customer. That's why we do market research, to learn about our target audience/customers and how best to reach them. But all of this work won't yield the results we hope for, even if we spend lots of money on advertising, if we don't take care of our customers once they buy or sign-up for whatever it is we are offering.
Focusing On Our Customers First, On Our Business Second
Yesterday, I returned a pair of slippers to the store where I had bought them, several months ago. I've purchased several of this particular brand before without a problem but the outside seam on this most recent pair had split open.
When I went to return the slippers, I was almost shocked at how pleasant the person was who took care of me, and how easy the process was. Don't get me wrong, my experience with this particular store has always been pretty good, but this scenario went above and beyond. The clerk greeted me like she knew me (big smile and 'Hi there!') and wasn't phased over the fact I didn't have a receipt. Then, when I complimented her on her excellent customer service skills, she thanked me and said, "Without you, without our customers, we wouldn't exist!"
Now, all of us know her statement is true (head knowledge). But, do we (and any of our staff) act as if it were true, with our customers? The long-term success of our business likely depends on it!
Obviously, a focus on our customers while we ignore other important facets of our business won't lead to a healthy business. But the point is this: if we don't make our customers our number one priority, if we don't make them central to everything we do, it won't matter how much time and energy we focus on our business. We will be constantly struggling to get new customers, or we won't have any customers to worry about!
Customer Service & Loyalty
I consider myself to be a loyal customer, when I'm treated right. I admit I'm somewhat fickle in that being treated like I'm liked, appreciated, valued, is important to me. While pricing is a factor too, customer service can easily trump this where the pricing difference is not unreasonable. I'm okay with paying a bit extra to deal with you, as long as you're worth the extra I'm paying.
But, even if you're a great deal, if I don't feel that I'm valued as a customer (and treated as such) this will be reflected in my loyalty to your brand/business. When it comes to pricing, when there's no loyalty involved to a particular brand/business, the lower price is likely to win my business.
What Does Good Customer Service Look Like?
To the average consumer - and I count myself in this group - I think good customer service includes:
- Being easy to reach when customers need to contact you (easily available by phone or email, if you aren't operating a store front business, and even if you are.)
- Responding to phone calls and emails promptly (1 or 2 days later is not prompt!)
- Being treated with friendliness, appreciation, respect and loyalty (before I become your customer and once I am your customer.)
- Keeping your promises by delivering products and services in the manner and condition advertised (under promise, over deliver.)
- Owning your mistakes and addressing them with a customer focus (be a problem solver, solution provider - not a blamer.)
- Delivering a consistent customer experience (understanding your customer service values and making sure your staff do too, then delivering on that experience every time!)
Customer Service Is A Huge Deal
Most of us know first-hand, that customer service is a big deal! But, sometimes we're more aware of its importance when we experience it personally, when we are on the receiving end of customer service, than we are when we're dealing with our customers, when we're on the giving end of customer service.
In a world where, according to Nielsen, 68% of us trust consumer opinions posted online and 84% of us trust recommendations from people we know, making customer service a #1 priority has never been more important.
No matter the size of your business, how you treat your customers will impact your bottom line. It's not just big brands like McDonalds, Starbucks and Apple who need to pay attention to how they treat their customers. It's the local mom and pop grocery store, the home-based business, the retail outlet in a strip mall, the local credit union, the person selling crafts at a local market or online, etc.
Of course, you can't simply run a great business by being friendly. Great customer service is much more than a smile, as I've outlined under "What Does Good Customer Service Look Like?" above.
Customer service is only one important aspect of building a successful business. There are several other keys to developing a successful business of any size. But delivering a consistent and good customer experience - customer service - is often the tipping point.