In a similar fashion to interviewing and hiring people – the hardest and most expensive exercise is getting the right employee – getting people back into the door is exactly the same. You want that repeat custom as that is what will save you money in your marketing and advertising. One of the key components to this in addition to the quality of the product itself is the customer service that you provide to the customer in their purchasing and ordering decisions. You can offer promotions and slash prices to bring in as many new customers as you want, but unless you can get some of those customers to come back, your business won’t be profitable for long. Good customer service is all about bringing customers back. And about sending them away happy – happy enough to pass positive feedback about your business along to others, who may then try the product or service you offer for themselves and in their turn become repeat customers.
“You will be judged by what you do, not what you say.”
- Answer your phone. If you don’t speak to your customers, you won’t know what problems they are having and you won’t be able to help them fix them. Hire the right people that have the right knowledge and make sure you have enough of them as keeping your customer on hold is NOT good customer service.
- Keep your commitments. If you tell someone you will find out the answer or will call them back, make sure you find out the answer and you call them back! Reliability is one of the keys to any good relationship, and good customer service is no exception. Think before you give any promise – because nothing annoys customers more than a broken one.
- Listen. I’ve spoken about this before in previous posts (here) but one of the most frustrating things – especially for customers not happy with you – is forcing them to repeat themselves. Irate customers especially can become infuriated when they find themselves transferred from person to person constantly having to explain the same issue over and over. It is imperative to use active listening skills and show your customer that you are paying attention by making the appropriate responses at the right times.
- Complaints – no one likes complaints. After all, most people are already trying to do their best and don’t like being told that it isn’t meeting the objectives they set out to address. However, customer complaints are an opportunity to hear not only about what you might have done wrong now but rather an opportunity to learn what you might do right in the future! Many of us have developed a reflex shrug, saying, “You can’t please all the people all the time”. Maybe not, but if you give the complaint your attention, you may be able to please this one person this one time – and position your business to reap the benefits of good customer service.
Help out – sometimes it really is the little things that make a difference. Providing directions or parts at a nominal charge might not earn you revenue now, but it could help make that customer someone that will come back in the future when they know that you have the knowledge and skills for their problem.
- Training – While having the phone answered on the first ring is a laudable objective if the person on the end of the line has no knowledge of your product or service it doesn’t really accomplish your objective. You need to train your team in your products and services as well as the value of good customer service. Most importantly, give every member of your staff enough information and power to make those small customer-pleasing decisions, so he never has to say, “I don’t know, but so-and-so will be back at…”
- Give them the pickle – sorry I know that’s a bit of strange turn of speech, but in some customer service training I once took its something that was taught and it stuck with me. Giving them the pickle means going that extra mile… for example if someone asks where something in the store is – don’t just point them to the aisle … take them there and show them the item they are looking for + other alternatives that might be better!
- Give them more than they are asking for – if you want them to come back, give them a reason to come back. It can be a small coupon, it can be something that will help with whatever they’ve just purchased. It doesn’t have to be expensive or large, but it should be useful.
Defining a Service
Now I started this post talking all about good Customer Service, however, something that isn’t often discussed is how you define a service (product) in the first place. Its all well and good to have good customer service, but if you’re selling something that the market isn’t interested in, you won’t have any customers TO service! If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of ITIL and its methodologies … fortunately, ITIL can help here too and by a happy coincidence, it also has an 8 step plan!
- Define The Market & Identify Customers – who is your target market & demographic (i.e. who would be interested in your product or service and who do you want to sell to)? By identifying the market it will simplify the decision about the products or services of interest and will help you identify the customers that would be interested in your product. Markets can be defined by industry, geography, demographics or a host of other factors.
- Understand the Customer – knowing what your customer wants is essential to providing him with a solution to his demands. For Type I and II organizations providing service to internal clients, this means understanding what the business is trying to accomplish, what the overall business goals of that business are and how these outcomes can be achieved. Type III (external) service providers need to understand why they are purchasing that service and what products or services are key in achieving the objectives. Understanding the customer involves understanding what they want to do, what their constraints are, how will they know that it has been successful etc…
- Quantify The Outcomes – I’ve spoken at length of the importance of measurement. This is absolutely essential if you are providing a service to someone or purchasing a service from someone as the only way you will know whether a service meets desired outcomes is by knowing in advance what your targets are and by measuring, how close you are to reaching those targets and objectives. Defining outcomes is an important part of defining services, but customers often take it for granted that everyone understands their particular outcomes because they work on them as a matter of routine. It is therefore important that the service provider works with the customer to quantify each outcome, and document it as part of the service description that will be entered into the service pipeline. As mentioned earlier in this post, complaints (not achieving outcomes) are not only a way for the customer to blow off steam, but are also a way for the provider of that service to improve in clearly defined ways so that they are better able to provide that service to the complaining customer and also to other customers! Therefore it is important to review the achievement of outcomes regularly, both to ensure that the service provider is not missing an opportunity, and also to ensure that current outcomes are being delivered.
- Classify the Service – this could be somewhat confusing in ITIL terms as they talk about service archetypes and service utility etc… To put it into somewhat simpler English, think of this as defining a subset of resources that will meet a specific customer demand. By combining a specific resource with a specific demand, you’ve built a specific service which you can then market and sell. In this way, not only will you know what the service is but you will know who your customer is and also what internal resources you will need to devote to them. This type of mapping is extremely useful as it will enable you to service not only your current customers but also through some simple analysis, future markets, and customers also!
- Understand the Market – OK you should by this point, have a good idea of your customer as well as what they want and how you are going to give it to them. You’ve basically already completed this step, but by taking it just that little bit further you can define the market space in general vs. just the one specific customer. Each customer has a number of requirements, and each service provider has a number of competencies. These intersections between the service provider’s competencies and the customer’s requirements are called market spaces. More formally, market spaces are the opportunities that a service provider could exploit to meet the business needs of customers.
- Define Services Based On Outcomes – Perhaps somewhat self-fulfilling, but a service should be defined upon what you can provide and what the customer wants. Having the customer want a rocketship and you providing a go-cart will not be successful and to be honest, offering a rocketship when they only want to pay for a go-cart will probably not work either! Services need to be cost-effective solutions to problems and need to address the needs of both sides. See my previous post where I talk about Value and Utility and Warranty as that will really help you understand this concept.
- Build a Service model – another place where ITIL perhaps over complicates things (IMHO) in their description, a service model can be used as a template or blueprint for multiple services’.
- Define Service Packages and Units – Services may be as simple as allowing a user to complete a single transaction, but most services are complex. They consist of a range of deliverables and functionality. If each individual aspect of these complex services were defined independently, the service provider would soon find it impossible to track and record all services. When a single service is delivered to a customer it is viewed by the service provider as a service. When two or more services are bundled and sold or delivered together they are viewed by the service provider as a service package. Service Packages can be defined as core, enabling or enhancing – see my post for further details on this.
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