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Customer Service With A Smile

What would you do if you were out with your family for a very special occasion at a 'pay through the nose'restaurant and when your daughter politely asks for an additional bread roll, the waiter replies,"one is enough for you".

Don't laugh, I know someone this happened to.

Customers want to be treated in the manner to which they are accustomed. The old adage,'the customer is always right' is crucial to strengthening the trades/customer relationship. It's also damn useful for making bucks.

Here are a few tips to help give your service that top-up:

Ways to make service sparkle

  • Speak to customers – be cheerful and smile at people – frowns use 72 muscles while a smile takes 14! Where possible, call people by their name
  • Listen to your customers to find out what they really want from you
  • Do things the way customers want them done
  • Train your staff to treat your customers in a manner that you want them to be treated
  • Make sure your customer knows what product or service you provide so they know exactly what they are getting from you
  • Handle customer complaints with care and concern. Make sure they feel their business is important to you. Fix up possible mistakes and let your customer know you have (see below)
  • Always return phone calls to customers
  • Have a policy for telephone service and make sure it's carried out by everyone in your organization. Service involves the way the telephone is answered, the speed of response to a query and all aspects of contact with the customer
  • Always turn up on time for your customers. If you are in the trades, or provide a service and you know you are going to be late delivering that service, call the customer and explain the reasons why you will be late
  • Make sure you are always your customer's first choice
  • Don’t make promises to customers that you can't keep
  • Add value. From time to time, and within budget, provide your loyal customers with extra support or rewards
  • Ask your staff and your customers what kind of service they would like and try to find ways to put any of these suggestions into practice
  • Remember that there is consumer protection in Australia (The Trade Practices Act 1974 and fair trading legislation) and the last thing your business needs is to be in a court or tribunal for deceptive trade practices.
  • Of course, these words of wisdom seem so obvious, but all too often both owners and employees fail to separate their own personality from their business. This can be fatal!
  • Playing the dutiful servant for a million dollar account is easier than smiling at a whinging customer who keeps changing his or her mind. Copping it sweet, however, and, even copping a smaller profit on one job, could get you such good references as an understanding type, that you will more than make up the losses from the client from hell.

Caring for the Customer

Ultimately, customers make their decisions with their feet as the following example attests.

A little old lady went into a bank and asked a teller to speak to the bank manager, Mr Johnson. The teller solemnly replied:"I'm sorry, but the bank manager is dead. We're all very sad." The next day, the little old lady returned to the same teller and asked to see the bank manager and again the teller, though perplexed at her return, told her:"The bank manager is dead. A replacement is due here next week."

One day later, the woman returned, lined up at the same teller and again asked to see the bank manager. This time the teller could stand it no more. Outraged, he asked,"I told you two days ago that the bank manager was dead. And yesterday I told you the bank manager was dead and here you are again! What are you playing at? Why do you keep coming here and asking to see the bank manager?". The dear old lady replied:"I'm sorry but I just love hearing those words – the bank manager is dead!"

Apologies to bank managers and their families, but this funny gag has its foundation in the legendary 'customer service' that our banks have been famous for. Marketing departments spend thousands of dollars on new systems and promotions to increase customer service levels. It seems efficiency is what they focus on most of all – but that's just one aspect of service. What do we have to do to be treated like a human being?

You should treat your customers with care. This involves communicating with customers and letting them know what needs to be done for the transaction to take place. If you are putting them on hold on the phone, or you need to make a call or locate a file, let them know – tell them exactly what you are doing. Don’t leave them standing there guessing, otherwise they become frustrated.

Greeting, or even smiling at a customer is no crime. Educate your staff to go beyond the plastic smile and standard phrases. Recognize customers and acknowledge them if they've been in your business before. Every time you do this, you reinforce a relationship with them. The more you know about your customers, the more you can find out their needs and help fulfil them – that's what service is all about.

Know your customer!

  • Are all your customers from the same background? Do they speak English, or do you serve a cross-section of cultures? Are they disabled, elderly or young?
  • One person who has a great handle on good and bad service is Catherine DeVrye. She argues that the evidence is overwhelming that customer satisfaction directly affects your bottom line. Catherine is the author of the best-selling book Good Service is Good Business which recommends treating each customer like an 'honored guest'.
  • The small business advantage
  • Small business owners should recognize and use their size to gain a competitive advantage by giving personalized customer service that large companies just can't match.
  • Management experts maintain that a big firm will more easily lose customers, as they often have a 'one type of service suits all' mentality.

A United States survey called The Profit Impact of Marketing Strategy (PIMS) spoke with consumers of over three thousand providers of goods and services. Customers were asked whether they perceived the organisation as a 'good service provider' or 'poor service provider'. Those results were then matched with the actual financial performance of the organization in the market place. The findings were conclusive:

  • The perceived good service providers could charge an average of 9-10% more for the same basic good or service
  • They grew two times faster than their competition
  • Furthermore, the perceived service leaders improved their market share an average of 6% per year, whereas the perceived poor providers lost as much as 2% market share per annum. The main reason customers did not return to restaurants was not due to poor food, but bad service – 83% of diners cited that as the reason for not returning.
  • You can't argue with customer perception
  • Of course, you can look at statistics on customer reactions, but the bottom line is a customer only cares how they feel in any given situation. No one ever said customers were reasonable human beings! And, although those customers may not always be right… they are always the customer.
  • You can't argue with that and it should be kept in mind when devising your customer service systems.

Other customer service tips include:

  • Lap up and minimize complaints – loyal customers are the most likely to take the time to complain. The others simply take their business elsewhere
  • No news is not good news – research shows each dissatisfied customer will, on average, tell 15 other people, while a satisfied customer will tell no more than six
  • Never simply dismiss any one complaint as an isolated incident
  • Fight to recover customers – the experts say if a customer complaint is handled well, 95% of those complainants will return to do business with your organization
  • Treat customers like a lover – if you offend a customer, consider a small gift to make up. You might turn an unhappy customer into a good and loyal customer
  • Listen to your customers – they are telling you what they want and are showing you the way to a bigger profits and bigger business.

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