In a marketplace that includes the Internet and pits national chains against locally operated businesses, the competition remains fierce. How do you compete against the corporate pocketbook?
I might be oversimplifying matters, but I really think the answer is simple: You have to “out serve” the competition. You must deliver memorable customer service.
If you think back on your own encounters with businesses over the past month or even the past week, I suspect you won’t remember much about those encounters. Those experiences you do recall likely will either be really good or really bad.
The really bad experiences are those that can damage a business. Those are the encounters we tend to talk about. We share them with our spouses and the next five to 10 people we encounter.
Maybe you didn’t get something you were promised or the business refused to stand behind a product. It just frustrates the tar out of you, and then you vent to the next person in which you come in contact until your frustration finally subsides.
As unfair as it might seem, we don’t tend to talk about our really good experiences with businesses without being prompted. What I mean by this is that when you run into someone who’s having a problem with something or someone, you say to them “Why don’t you give so and so a call. They did a great job for me when I had that problem.” At that point, you might even tell them you’re good experience in some detail.
The key to customer service success is to eliminate the really bad experiences and multiply the really good experiences. How is that accomplished? It isn’t easy, but it’s simple nonetheless:
Common courtesy: I guess I must be getting old, but I feel respected and valued when someone says “Good morning, sir. How can I help you?” Better yet, someone calls me by name. How rare is that in your daily life? What used to be part of “common” speech is now all too uncommon. How about “pardon me” instead of “what” or “excuse me,” “please” and “thank you?” Unless you’re hiring older folks, your staff could require some training in these common courtesies.
When you go into a business that uses courteous language, it feels different and customers feel more valued and respected. That in itself is unusual enough to be remembered. Oh, I forgot to mention: it’s free. People might not pick up on exactly why your business makes them feel valued, but they’ll want to come back and experience that again.
You must care: You must care about your customers’ problems as if they’re your own. More to the point, your customers must “feel” that caring for it to mean something.
The philosophy at my businesses is to meet needs rather than sell products. My job is to discover the needs of our prospects and clients and then tailor our products and services to fit those needs — NOT the other way around. Our solutions must help them do business better and more efficiently. We must bring real value to the relationship. If I don’t find a good fit in the consulting process, I walk away with a handshake and the prospects don’t feel like I tried to sell them something they didn’t need. They frequently call us later and ask to do business with us when their situations change.
No excuses: At some point in your relationships with existing clients, something will go wrong. When it does, stand up and fix it. Be sincere, apologize and get to work on solutions. Don’t make your mistakes your customers’ problems.
How many times have you had an issue with a vendor or service provider and then had them make you go out of the way to fix their error. Everybody makes mistakes. Most folks are just looking for you to say, “I’m sorry this happened. Let me take care of this for you.” Just treat them as you would want to be treated.
If you want to win in today’s market, train your people to offer exceptional manners in your client relations. Meet needs rather than sell products or services. Stand behind your work on a personal level. It all boils down to making folks feel respected and valued — two things sadly lacking in our culture these days.
That is what memorable customer service means. If you deliver it, you’ll stand out and your clients will become your biggest fans.