The more competitive business becomes, the more every entrepreneur needs an edge. Consistently good customer service before, during, and after the sale will give you that edge and drive up your profit potential. Having spent twenty-six years in three diverse areas of sales and service, certain guidelines for practicing top-notch customer service continually rise to the top of the list. Take a fresh inventory of your customer service with these suggestions.
The People Business
Always remember that no matter what you do for a living, it’s a “people” business first and foremost. People spend money with other people.
Sell yourself as well as your product or service. Most of us buy the products and services we choose, not only because of quality and price, but because we genuinely want to give our business to the person who represents that company to us.
Think about the benefit of your product or service to your customer, first and foremost. Everything about your business should be geared toward this one objective. They won’t spend money with you, unless they perceive that the benefit to them outweighs the cost. Consumers have become increasingly egocentric with slogans such as “I love what you do for me” and “Have it your way” as part of the advertising landscape for years. Let them be egocentric; you can’t afford to be.
Whether you operate from a storefront, over the Internet, or by telephone only, approach your business presentation and look at it the way a potential customer would. Why should they break through the “wall” of implicit sales intimidation and make the decision to come into your place of business? Is the atmosphere inviting and friendly, yet professional? Customer service starts by putting the person at ease with you and your method of doing business, while promoting what it is you do.
Be courteous. In a professional sense, courtesy could be defined as “placing the customer’s needs above your own.” Ultimately the business owner who earns this reputation reaps greater financial rewards, than the thoughtless, inconsiderate entrepreneur.
Make each customer feel as though you have all the time in the world for him or her (even though you don’t!). Plan for interruptions, then pace your day accordingly. You will be less likely to “take it out” on your customer when interruptions occur.
Examine the entire selling or service-provider experience from the customer’s perspective. Who did most of the talking? Were you interested in them as a person, or simply as a potential client? Did you treat them the same way you enjoy being treated, when you are on the other end of the sawhorse?
The Education Business
Give your potential customers the information they want, and the freedom to make their own decisions. An educated consumer is your best customer. Buyers today resist high-pressure barrages, but they appreciate a businessperson’s willingness to share expertise in order to make a more informed decision.
Return phone calls and emails promptly. Even when you are reasonably sure the next phone call you return won’t generate income immediately, go ahead and make the call. Making your customer wait to get the information they need from you creates an inconvenience for them.
If your average sale is $100 and about half your calls result in a sale, each phone call is worth $50 to you. Can you afford to make your customers wait to get the information they need from you?
Responding to customer inquiries promptly and politely demonstrates that you place their interests first. That person will remember your timely response the next occasion they do need your product or service.
If you don’t have a pleasant, comfortable phone manner, enlist the help of someone in your organization who does.
The Trust Business
Not only is every business owner in the “people” business, but we all also offer as our first commodity trust or confidence.
Never lie about anything. If you can’t deliver on time because your child has an emergency and you need to run by the hospital, tell the customer in a discreet way and ask for an extension of delivery time. Do you provide a service in the home? When you are offered water, if you’re not thirsty, be truthful and decline in a courteous manner. An associate once suggested to me to accept it anyway, and then pour the glass out into a potted plant when the homeowner leaves the room-poor advice. Customers run for the hills when they suspect dishonesty of any kind. No amount of explanation can repair damaged customer service, when trust is compromised.
Listen and observe. Is the spouse involved in the purchasing decision? What clues can you pick up about whether or not your customer is nervous, fearful, or trusting about spending money with you? What do you need to do differently to put them at ease?
Go above and beyond. When a client pays you to steam-clean a carpet, for example, and you perform your work scrupulously well, you have only done what is expected in the transaction. Could you leave a sample of a spot remover, make a simple carpet repair, or offer to clean an additional small piece of furniture free?
Going the extra mile need not cut into your profit margin. Discerning the customer’s real needs, and meeting them, demonstrates your ability to put them above strict attention to profits only, and builds trust.
When a problem occurs following the conclusion of a sale, do what you can to make it right. Continue to handle objections and questions as readily as you did before the sale. A repaired negative business relationship is better than no business relationship at all.
Have fun at what you do, and make it clear to your customers that you enjoy taking care of their needs. Try selling using only questions. For example, “What method are you currently using to strip your floors?” “Are you satisfied with it?” “If I could show you a way to reduce costs, handle less product packaging, and save half the time with better results would you be interested?”
Even if your customer would have done business with you because of price and value alone, most people react even more favorably when “sold” by someone comfortable in his or her profession. This kind of sales experience is less likely to generate ill feelings after the sale.
Be appreciative of the fact that the customer has chosen to do business with you. In most cases, they could have gone elsewhere. Thank the customer for choosing your company. Your goal should be to build a long-lasting positive business relationship with each customer who crosses your path.
All of us who deal with the public constantly monitor the bottom line. When customer service improves, profit margins will also.