Although it is very convenient to shop online, many customers still enjoy the experience of touching merchandise and browsing in a brick and mortar store; hence the popularity of small neighborhood businesses. There are few things more pleasing to one's "soul" as when the owner of a store knows your name and offers you a cup of coffee or a croissant as you inspect the latest arrivals. In the neighborhood deli, your favorite flavor of coffee cream sits waiting for you in the refrigerator, and at the office supply store the owner knows the brand of your copier and offers you a 10 percent discount because you are a regular customer.
Whether a customer spends $10 or $1,000, chances are at some time they are still going to have a question or an issue with a product. How an organization handles the situation can differentiate you from the competition. Although someone who loves your service may only tell one or two new potential customers, the flip side of dissatisfied customers can wind up with the loss of 20 customers - both current and in the future.
Customer service is no longer regarded as "business as usual" since the competition wants your customers as badly as you want to keep them. It's no secret that building loyalty and keeping customers are the longtime ingredients to success, but many of the rules have changed as the economy has left only the strongest to survive. Couple that with the popularity of social media, businesses and especially small businesses are under even closer scrutiny than years ago. For instance if someone is angry with your business, it's likely to appear via a Tweet or on Facebook. Even though all complaints are not always valid, angry people no longer have to wait "on hold" to voice their complaints. An inflated sense of customer entitlement continues to blossom as competing organizations step "out of the box" to build their brand and hence increase their loyalty from their customers.
So what's a local merchant to do to cultivate their customers' loyalties? Customer service has to be proactive. Many local businesses promote their services on Facebook. Regularly keeping up with customers, offering exceptional personal services, and keeping up with community events and humanitarian causes attract positive attention. Don't wait for customers to come to you since it's so easy for people to forget. Stay in contact. In the real estate business, we use "farm areas" which are the communities where we are solidly educated and familiar as to home prices, sold homes, community efforts, schools, and local available services. Once every few weeks, interesting and helpful marketing information goes out to each of the areas informing residents of any changes, but there's always more. In Florida for instance, the early summer months are popular for sending out hurricane preparation information. As the weather gets cooler, there's advice for planting flowers. Other times there are local notifications of popular events in the area or even some advice on how to wrap a beautiful gift or where to take your dog for a frisbee contest.
The bottom line to outstanding customer service is to reach out and provide every employee with the motivational tools to want to please customers. Use the examples of exceptional service by such organizations as American Express, Ritz Carlton Hotels, and Zappos. Incorporate the best of the best into affordable but meaningful ways to please customers. Make them feel important and deliver outstanding customer service.