As the wind of economic cycles blows hard, some businesses try to contain costs by cutting corners on customer service quality. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, because customer service quality matters now more than ever. Here’s why:
A. When people buy during an economic downturn they are extremely conscious of the hard-earned money that they spend. Customers want more attention, more appreciation and more recognition when making their purchases with you, not less. Customer service quality is simply essential.
B. Customers want to be sure they get maximum value for the money they spend. They want assistance, education, training, installation, modifications and support. The basic product may remain the same, but they want more service and higher customer service quality.
C. 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. Customer service quality matters more than you think.
D. In difficult economic times, people spend less time traveling and “wining and dining,” and more time carefully shopping for each and every purchase. Giving great service enhances the customer’s shopping experience and boosts your own company’s image.
When times are good, people move fast and sometimes don’t notice your efforts. In tougher times, people move more cautiously and notice every extra effort you make. Customer service quality is vital because people will pay attention and remember.
E. When money is tight, many people experience a sense of lower self-esteem. When they get good service from your business, it boosts their self-image. And when they feel good about themselves, they feel good about you. And when they feel good about you and your customer service quality, they buy.
F. In tough times, people talk more with each other about saving money and getting 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 by making your customer service quality exceptional!
The Secrets of Superior Service
Giving high customer service quality in tough times makes good business sense. But how do you actually achieve it? Here are eight proven principles you can use to raise customer service quality. I call them The Secrets of Superior Service.
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 customer service quality to differentiate your business from your competition. Your products may be reliable and up-to-date – but your competitors’ goods are, too. Your delivery systems may be fast and user-friendly, but so are your competitors’!
You can make a more lasting difference by providing personalized, responsive and extra-mile customer service quality that stands out in a unique way your customers will appreciate – and remember.
3. Set and achieve high standards for customer service quality. You can go beyond basic and expected levels of service to provide your customers with desired and even surprising service interactions.
Determine the standard customer service quality 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 customer service quality!
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 in regard to customer service quality.
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 ten they will extend the understanding and the leeway that 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. Don’t tell your customer it will take an hour. Instead, let them know you will rush on their behalf, but promise a 90-minute timeframe.
Then, when you finish in just one hour (as you knew you would all along), your customer will be delighted to find that you finished the job “so quickly.” That’s “under promise, then over deliver.” This can help you gain a reputation for customer service quality.
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 and demonstrate customer service quality. 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 future orders, an upgrade to a higher class of product.
This is not the time to assign blame for what went wrong or to calculate the costs of repair. Restoring customer goodwill is worth the price in positive word-of-mouth and new business.
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 and can help you raise customer service quality!
And remember, for every person who complains, there are many more who don’t bother to tell you. The others just take their business elsewhere…and speak badly about you. At least the complainer gives you a chance to reply and set things right.
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.
Blaming yourself doesn’t work, either. No matter how many mistakes you may have made, tomorrow is another chance to do better. You need high self-esteem to deliver customer service quality. Feeling ashamed doesn’t help.
It doesn’t make sense to make excuses and blame the computers, the system or the budget, either. This kind of justification only prolongs the pain before the necessary changes can take place.
The most reliable way to bring about constructive change in your organization is to take personal responsibility and help make good things happen. When you see something that needs to be done, do it to raise customer service quality. 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 customer service quality is the currency that keeps our economy moving. I serve you in one business, you serve me in another. When either of us improves customer service quality, 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.
The time to make it happen is now.
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Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission. Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “Uplifting Service” books and founder of Uplifting Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit UpliftingService.com.
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