In these tough economic times, you can’t afford to be lax when it comes to customer service. After all, customers are your most vital asset. Even today, the old salesman’s saying rings true: “There’s no customer like an existing customer.”
Lately, with customer service being outsourced to far-flung foreign countries and handled by reps who barely speak English, customer service has become a lost art. The issue isn’t whether the call center is outsourced, however. The issue is in your culture of customer support. Do you have one? Or is it just a line item expense? To “stay in the game” these days, you have to practice customer service as if each customer is the most important one you have.
Keep in mind that your customers are probably being aggressively courted by your fiercest competitor. Or, at the very least, your customer is casually mousing over your competitor’s website, just one click from desertion. Only through vigilant customer service can you hope to keep your most valuable asset. Some guidelines:
1. Know Your Customer
Whether it’s through online or snail-mail research, focus groups or questionnaires, you must learn as much as you can about your customer. Only then can you address their needs and wants. And only then can you respond intelligently to their concerns when problems arise. Knowing your customer helps you anticipate their needs and stay one step ahead of any issues that arise with your product or service.
2. Listen and Hear What Customers are Saying
Be open and respond to your customers’ words, tone of voice, body language, and their attitude about your product or service. Don’s simply assume you know what your customer wants. Listen carefully to the nuances of what he or she is trying to tell you. Read between the lines. And respond accordingly. Practice this on the telephone as well as on the showroom floor, and anywhere else you have the opportunity to interact.
3. Respond to Emotions
Customers buy products or services to satisfy an emotional need. Specs and technical data are simply used to reinforce emotional decisions that have already been made. Yes, you read that correctly– technical data is usually justification for emotional decisions. While a thorough understanding of your product or service is key, how it meets a customer’s emotional needs—for security, belonging, coolness, approval, accolades, etc.—all play an important role in customer service.
4. Apologize for Mishaps
No product or service is perfect. Most valued customers know that. So when things go wrong (and they will), it’s time for an apology. Do so openly, not grudgingly. Address problems as soon as possible and let customers know what corrective steps you’ve taken. Customer complaints are valuable feedback tools. Use them. Analyze them and improve wherever you can.
5. Make Customers Feel like a King
Address your customer by name and make them feel important. Don’t start a conversation by asking for their account number, product code or other impersonal information. Be sincere in thanking them for being a customer and compliment them if they have been with you for any length of time. Customers can spot a phony in the first 5 seconds of a conversation. They want to know that you really care about them.
Depending on the nature of your business, you might even employ proactive tactics to reach out to your customers for no particular reason, other than to say thank you and to see if they need anything. Don’t make such outreach a thinly veiled sales call– doing so can keep them feeling like a commodity, not a king (or queen).
Value your customers. Let them be king. They are key to your survival as a business.