Forced to do more with less, small businesses that have managed to survive or even thrive have recognized one key factor: You can’t always compete on price, but you can compete on service. And the best thing about great customer service is that providing it doesn’t cost anything. When your competition is scrounging for customers, you have to hold yours close, and that starts with great customer service.
“Today’s small business owners should know that cutting costs will not save a business,” says Ed Hess, author of the book Growing an Entrepreneurial Business (Stanford University Press, 2011) and professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. “Customers are concerned about their own finances. When they visit your business, they need to feel cherished. They don’t expect rock bottom prices everywhere, but they do expect good treatment.”
Here are 10 commandments for creating great customer service:
- Happy employees create happy customers. Employee satisfaction translates to great customer service. Employees who like their jobs and care about the business they work for are more likely to go the extra mile for a customer. Creating that feeling in your employees will pay you back exponentially.
- Always respond quickly. Your customers are busy, too. They shouldn’t be left wondering what kind of service they are going to receive or when. Answering email inquiries, returning phone calls and responding to messages or other contacts on Facebook or other social media should be part of a daily routine.
- Make it easy to do business with you. Never make customers jump through hoops to buy something from you. Have a return policy that is easy to understand and puts customer interests first. Provide refunds quickly and efficiently.
- Keep customers informed of what’s happening. When customers know what’s happening with an order or request, they can enjoy doing business with you. For example, if you’re handling a return and typing information into a computer, you might say, “I’m entering the date of purchase and product number so we can make sure to give you the maximum refund possible.”
- Use technology to provide good service. Today’s technology offers every small business the means to provide service more quickly and efficiently than ever. “Business owners sometimes assume that customers don’t like to be communicated with online,” says Hess. “And for some that might be the case. But most people appreciate the ease that online communication provides.”
- Make your customers feel valued. Understand that each and every one of your customers is special. As the late business guru Peter Drucker said: The sole purpose of business is to serve customers. Make sure your employees understand this, and that above all else they must focus on making customers feel valued and appreciated.
- Remember, disgruntled customers won’t complain; they just won’t come back. If you don’t take time to provide excellent service, customers won’t take time to tell you how to improve your business. What’s more, unhappy customers will tell others about their bad experience. And in this age of social media, the ripple effect can be very damaging.
- Provide special training for frontline employees. Employees who interact directly with customers are critical to your business. “Their attitudes, communication skills and style of service are what customers associate with your business,” says Hess. “Make sure they are trained to handle the potentially stressful task of working with customers.”
- Make sure the first customer is happy before moving on to the next. Customers value quick service just as much as they value quality service. But you can’t sacrifice one for the other. “It’s important to make sure one customer is satisfied before you move on to the next,” says Hess. “That can be as simple as asking, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you today?’”
- Compensate for mistakes. Never shortchange your customers. “If a mistake was made or some other circumstance is preventing you from providing the best level of customer service, find a way to make it up to your customer,” says Hess. Give employees the latitude to provide customers with solutions when they can’t satisfy a need.
Have a question about customer service? Connect with a SCORE mentor online or in your community today!