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Customer Service: The Differentiator
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Customer Service: The Differentiator
So a few weeks ago, I got together with some friends for a backyard barbeque. The food was delicious and the drinks weren’t that bad either. During the cookout the conversation eventually routed to what we all were currently working on. Of course, I had to take the opportunity to plug this blog. As soon as my friend’s sister heard I was writing on behalf of the experiences small business owners are having she pleaded, “Please write a post on the importance of customer service.”
She had just had what she felt was a horrendous service experience and was so disappointed she swore to never return. Never. That’s a strong word. But in reality that’s exactly what happens to businesses every single day. A customer is unhappy with the service they’ve been provided and while some balk and demand better, more often than not that customer will turn around, walk out the door and never return. An example: Dan; he and his son were trying to buy the newest football Playstation 3 game at a large supercenter near his home. They approached the counter to ask to have the game retrieved from the locked case. Thirty seconds go by, then a minute and a half, then three. No acknowledgement. At this point Dan turns to his 12 year old son and says, “Son, whenever you go to a store to spend your money and no one even takes a second to say hello to you, they don’t want your business and they are not someone you want to do business with.” So out the door, down the street to the strip mall and into the game store they went, where they were greeted, provided options of a new or gently used game, updated on similar games they may be interested in and on the release dates of the new versions arriving soon. Instead of one game they bought three. What was the difference? The difference was the acknowledgement that they existed and that their business was important enough for the clerk to spend five minutes locating the product they wanted and providing a little additional information in which they may be interested.
Did the supercenter lose Dan as a customer? No. Why? They are a supercenter. They sell the gamut of most everything you need and have the buying power to keep their prices low. But imagine the impact if they were a specialty small business. Not only would they mostly likely lose a customer that cost them hundreds of marketing dollars to secure, but they could also gain a negative word of mouth, possibly viral if Dan was Twittering while waiting, and have a potential loss of would be new customers. Just a few customers lost; compounded with negative word of mouth and a small business would be shutting their doors.
Customer Service is everything. To protect your business remember the tried and true retail 30 / 30 rule: Greet the customer within 30 seconds / 30 steps of entering your store. If you have an online business set up automatic replies of acknowledgement that their request or question has been received. Include a link to your FAQs and an alternate form of contact if available. Then return the call / email as soon as possible but most importantly, within the time frame you stated you would. Embrace the inverted pyramid, take care of your employees and they will in turn take care of your customers. Hire quality employees and train well. Your frontline is the face of your business, especially the kid with braces on your cash register. That kid may be the last interaction your customers have with your business; you want it to be a good one. Make sure he’s pleasant, knowledgeable, helpful and smiling, shiny braces and all. Did you know braces have color bands the kids get to choose? Your business colors are probably in their selection palette… Hey, I’m just saying.
Tonya is a Program Manager for the Manufacturing & Technology Small Business Development Center at Columbus State Community College. The MTSBDC along with the core SBDC & ITAC (International Trade Assistance Center) provide free one-on-one business management counseling to small business owners and low to no cost training. You can also find Tonya on twitter at @TonyaWilson.