Monday, December 20, 2010

Customer Service Principles that Never Go Out of Style

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Jerry Margolin, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Most customers that are lost by small businesses are lost because of poor customer service performance, rather than for any other reason.  A small business has a golden opportunity to increase their sales simply by being aware of customers needs, and responding positively to them. In fact, many of these same customers are willing to pay more for the privilege, since it happens so seldom.  Here are a few tips that you might consider.

  • Never use an automated telephone system unless you absolutely have to!

Let the big boys annoy their customers; not you.  Most people hate to be put on hold while a recorded message tells them how important they are.  It doesn’t matter how many employees you have, any time a telephone is answered by a person rather than a machine, your stock goes up.

  • If you say you will call back in fifteen minutes, call back in fifteen minutes!

If you set a time to call someone back with information, call them back at the promised time even if you haven’t received the information yet.  Too often I hear “I didn’t call back, because I had nothing to tell you”.  Yes you did have something to tell them; you had to tell them that you did not have the information yet.  Customers are almost more grateful for that, than they are for the answer to their problem.  It says that you are working on it, you haven’t forgotten, and that you are trustworthy.  They will remember that the next time that they buy a product that you sell.

  • Learn the names of as many customers as you can, and use them!

Everyone loves to hear the sound of their name.  It says that you remember them, and are important to the proprietor and that business.  If I regularly use a cleaner, or small sandwich shop, dog groomer, or whatever, and they speak to me by name, rather than asking me what it is, and how to spell it each time I go there, I feel flattered and want to recommend that business to my friends, so that they too can feel flattered and enjoy the same experience.  When I go to a restaurant and the owner stops by the table, and says “Jerry, how was the food this evening?”  It tells my dining companions that my business is meaningful to that restaurant, and theirs will be too.

  • Be flexible when dealing with problems!

If you guarantee a product for thirty days, and it breaks on the thirty-first, think of negotiating something anyway.  The big question should be “Is it defective, not when it was bought.  Giving a customer their money back once may cement the relationship with your business.  Good customers are hard to replace.  If you are unable to make that decision for some reason, at least give them a gift certificate or a decent discount on their next purchase.  You don’t win when you invoke a rule because “it’s there.”  In fact by making a concession to a rule, you may turn an angry shopper a devoted shopper for life instead.

There are lots more tips to mention, but hopefully, these will get you thinking.