Putting Your Customers First Can Put Your Company on Top
By Jennifer Craig | June 20, 2012
When asked to describe the company’s “bread and butter,” one service business owner answered, “my expertise with chemicals and my certifications.” He went on to say that there are at least 50 competitors within a 50-mile radius offering the same service, using the exact chemicals, and charging the same prices. When asked to share his sales strategies or general advice, he said, “Look, there is always some hot shot who thinks he can undercut my prices. I get contracts with customers and I tell them that they get what they pay for. I’m an expert in my field so my quality is always going to be better. I give them the best demo possible and let them compare the old with the new so they can see for themselves. I estimate my jobs on about a two-hour basis (in and out). That’s how I make my profit.” When asked his annual sales, he said he is a one-man operation, putting in about 40 hours a week, with sales totaling $100,000 a year.
Upon contacting another individual (competitor), we asked the same questions. The man had this to say about his bread and butter, “My customer is what keeps food on my table. I cater to that customer, giving them the best possible service, with a satisfaction guarantee. If they are unhappy, they don’t have to pay. In all the years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve never had anyone who wasn’t satisfied.”
When asked about contracts, he said, “No contracts. That keeps me on my toes. If they aren’t satisfied, they can find a better service. I have people chasing me down to get my card, because they lost the one I gave them.” He admitted he didn’t have a phonebook listing (not wise, by the way), because he visits all of his current customers to check on their satisfaction and needs. He makes cold calls and provides references to potential new customers and has more work than he can do at times.
When asked about his strategies, annual sales, and advice, he said that customer service is his number one strategy. “These people are paying for the service,” he said. “If they are not happy, I’ve lost income. My best advice is to listen and give the customer what he wants and needs, but do better than anyone in the whole world can do.” He went on to say that he, too, is a one-man operation (charging about the same as the other business). He works about 20 hours a week with annual sales between $130k and $165k a year, depending on how hard he works. He admitted that his age has slowed him down and that he cannot expand because good help is hard to find.
The difference between the two businesses is attitude and focus. One focused on himself and what he had to offer the customer (which is not always a bad approach) while the other focused entirely on the customer. If you were hiring these services, whom would you choose? Most of us would select the business whose number one concern is the customer. Unfortunately, we all feel that customer service is not what it used to be. Instead of getting that “warm fuzzy feeling” when shopping, we experience a sense of being ignored or unappreciated. In fact, a recent study by American Express found that 2/3 of consumers feel that companies aren’t doing enough to earn their business.
So, what can you do to make your business more customer-centric and gain a competitive advantage in today’s challenging business climate?
Customer Service Points to Remember
- Anyone who meets the customer (by phone or in person) represents you and your business. In fact, that person might be the only contact the customer has or sees initially with your company.
- Set standards by which the customer will be treated at all times, even when he is cranky or unhappy. Those standards should include:
a. Attitude (pleasant and helpful; warm and interested) – nothing is worse than to be talking to someone who appears to be bored;
b. Attention (listen attentively, asking questions) – like boredom, it is horrible to talk to someone who is not listening;
c. Voice – remember attitude, a person’s voice sets the stage. It should be pleasant and concerned. It is hard to be angry when you are smiling.
- Performance reviews as well as raises should be based on customer satisfaction.
- Growth in the business is determined on the volume of customers and quality service.
Customer Service Do’s:
- Hire the right people – “people-oriented”. Be sure to check references because everybody says they are when they are not. Success is built on relationships (good ones). I was being waited on by a cashier who refused to make eye contact, smile, or respond. I felt sorry for the store that they would hire someone who so poorly represented them.
- Train them correctly – how to answer the phone (use role play if necessary) and handle customers in general. We all assume people know how to answer the phone. Wrong!! Try some testy examples, but show them what is and what is not acceptable. Also, train them to know the business. It is very frustrating to call for information but the people answering the phone or the receptionist knows nothing about the business.
- In meetings or training sessions – provide opportunities to practice listening skills. A customer may seem irate over a simple thing when in reality they are really upset because they are not feeling appreciated at home or anywhere else. Problem solving techniques will help with this one.
- Teach staff to be helpful even if it has nothing to do with the business (like finding a phone number for someone or helping with directions). With every positive impression comes recognition, referrals or potential customers.
- Never promise what the business cannot deliver but encourage staff to agree to see what they can do. Sometimes there is another point for negotiation that is just as beneficial to the customer.
Good customer service means going the extra mile for the customer to ensure their satisfaction. It means, listening and responding; truly caring about the person who brings in profit to your business; and realizing that the customer is the focus of the business. Without him or her, the business cannot succeed.
Above all, never forget where your bread is buttered.
About the Author
Jennifer has over 30 years combined experience in business consulting, human resources, training, organizational development, and entertainment. In the past, she had worked for a variety of organizations including NMSU, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Universal Studios before joining WESST in 1995. Her BA is in Journalism and Mass Communications, and her graduate work is in Training and Development. She was on the founding Board of the local ASPA (SHRM) group, was named SBA’s Small Business Advocate of the Year in 1997; and has illustrated two books. She enjoys writing and painting.