As the wind of economic cycles blows hard, some businesses try to contain costs by cutting corners on customer service. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, because service matters now more than ever. Here's why:
Wiser spending. When people buy during an economic downturn, they are extremely conscious of the hard-earned money they spend. Customers want more attention, more appreciation and more recognition when making their purchases with you, not less.
More bang for the buck. Customers want to be sure they get maximum value for the money they spend. The basic product may remain the same, but they want more service.
A guarantee. Customers want firmer guarantees that their purchase was the right thing to do. In good times, a single bad purchase can be quickly overlooked or forgotten; but in tough times, every expenditure is scrutinized. Provide the assurance your customers seek with generous service guarantees, regular follow-up, and speedy follow-through on all queries and complaints.
Positive word-of-mouth. During a down economy, people talk more with each other about saving money and getting a good value. Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful force at any time. In difficult times, even more ears will be listening. Be sure the words spoken about your business are good ones!
The Secrets of Superior Service
Giving good service in tough times makes good business sense. But how do you actually achieve it? Here are eight proven principles you can use.
1. Understand how your customers' expectations are rising and changing over time. What was good enough last year may not be good enough now. Use customer surveys, interviews and focus groups to understand what your customers really want, what they value, and what they believe they are getting (or not getting) from your business.
2. Use quality service to differentiate your business from competition. Your products may be reliable and up-to-date, but your competitors' are, too. Your delivery systems may be fast and user-friendly, but so are your competitors'! Make a lasting difference by providing personalized, responsive and extra-mile service that stands out in a unique way your customers will appreciate—and remember.
3. Set and achieve high service standards. You can go beyond basic and expected levels of service to provide your customers with desired and even surprising interactions. Determine the standard for service in your industry, and then find a way to go beyond it. Give more choice than “the usual,” be more flexible than “normal,” be faster than “the average,” and extend a better warranty than all the others.
Your customers will notice your higher standards. But eventually those standards will be copied by your competitors, too. So don't slow down. Keep stepping up!
4. Learn to manage your customers' expectations. You can't always give customers everything their hearts desire. Sometimes you need to bring their expectations into line with what you know you can deliver.
The best way to do this is by first building a reputation for making and keeping clear promises. Once you have established a base of trust and good reputation, you only need to ask your customers for their patience in the rare instances when you cannot meet their first requests. Nine times out of 10, they will extend the understanding and leeway you need.
The second way to manage customers' expectations is to under promise, then over deliver. Here's an example: You know your customer wants something done fast. You know it will take an hour to complete. Tell him you will rush on his behalf, but promise a 90-minute timeframe. When you finish in just one hour (as you knew you would all along), your customer will be delighted to find you finished the job so quickly.
5. Bounce back with effective service recovery. Sometimes things do go wrong. When it happens to your customers, do everything you can to set things right. Fix the problem and show sincere concern for any discomfort, frustration or inconvenience. Then do a little bit more by giving your customer something positive to remember—a token of goodwill, a gift of appreciation, a discount on a future sale, an upgrade to a higher class of product, etc.
6. Appreciate your complaining customers. Customers with complaints can be your best allies in building and improving your business. They point out where your system is faulty or your procedures are weak and problematic. They show where your products or services are below expectations. They point out areas where your competitors are getting ahead or where your staff is falling behind. These are the same insights and conclusions companies pay consultants to provide, but a complainer gives them to you free.
7. Take personal responsibility. In many organizations, people are quick to blame others for problems or difficulties at work: managers blame staff, staff blame managers, engineering blames sales, sales blames marketing, and everyone blames finance. This does not help. In fact, all the finger-pointing make things much worse.
The most reliable way to bring about constructive change in your company is to take personal responsibility and help make good things happen. When you see something that needs to be done, do it. If you see something that needs to be done in another department, recommend it. Be the person who makes suggestions, proposes new ideas and volunteers to help on problem-solving teams, projects and solutions.
8. See the world from each customer's point of view. We often get so caught up in our own world that we lose sight of what our customers actually experience. Make time to stand on the other side of the counter or listen on the other end of the phone. Be a “mystery shopper” at your own place of business. Or become a customer of your best competition. What you notice when you look from the other side is what your customers experience every day.
Finally, always remember that service is the currency that keeps our economy moving: “I serve you in one business, you serve me in another.” When either of us improves, the economy gets a little better. When both of us improve, people are sure to take notice. When everyone improves, the whole world grows stronger and closer together.
Use the eight principles above to build a superior service culture for your organization. The time to make it happen is now.
Ron Kaufman is an international educator and motivator for uplifting customer service, partnerships and superior service culture. He is the author of the best-selling book series "UP Your Service!" and the 11-title inspirational book series "Lift Me Up!" As the founder of UP Your Service! College, his clients include government agencies and multi-nationals in every major industry. For more information, visit www.upyourservice.com.