Sunday, November 20, 2011

Customer Service In Your Small Business

If you're in small business, then you know the importance of good customer service as a strategy to compete against larger companies in your sector.

You may not have the same profile as some of the larger companies, you do not have their advertising and promotion budget. You are probably not able to beat them on price - because they have economies of scale and greater volume in their purchasing power.

However, where you can compete with "big business" effectively is in customer service - building a closer relationship and establishing more of a personal relationship with your customers.

Manage customer expectations

One thing I have learned from more than twenty years in small business is the importance of managing customer expectations - and the principle of promise less, deliver more

There are few things that annoy customers more than their supplier not doing what they said they would when they promised. Your customer may well plan their schedule and other commitments around your delivery promise, so you are better off adding some contingency time onto your time estimate.

In other words, let's say for example that you run a small printing business. And your customer asks when will the job be ready, and you think to yourself that it should be finished by 2.00 pm . You could actually say 2.00 pm and then maybe later you discover that it takes a little longer than anticipated and isn't actually ready til 2.30 pm - and therefore you'll have a disappointed customer on your hands.

Instead by applying the principle of "promise less, deliver more", when you think to yourself 2.00 pm - you say to them "It' should be finished by 3.00 pm - but if we get it dome earlier, I'll call you" - then when you complete the job at 2.30 pm they'll be happy and you'll be less stressed !!

If you're thinking of some customer service skills training for your staff, you might have a look at Customer Service Training Melbourne

Service recovery

OK, so we've explored the importance of managing customer expectations. But what happens when you do get it wrong? Maybe you've provided them with something different to what they asked for. For example, going back to the printing business - let's say the customer ordered a big supply of printing on yellow paper, but you mistakenly printed on white paper.

Often, it is the complaint from the customer himself that will bring the matter to your attention. This is where it's important that you have trained your staff in how to handle complaints. The customer may well be upset, so it's important that you show some empathy in the situation. Once you recognise that you got it wrong then apologise quickly and explain what you will do to fix the problem.

This is not the time to try to find excuses for the mistake, because all the customer wants is a solution to the problem you've created for them . If it is going to take some time to correct the situation, see if there's anything you can do in the interim to alleviate any difficulties your mistake has made for your customer.

For example, imagine you arrive at your hotel to check in and yet your room is not ready when it should be. The receptionist apologises, says it will just be another twenty minutes - and arranges for a couple of complimentary drinks at the bar whilst you wait. Doesn't this gesture help retain goodwill?

Let's go back to the printing example .... imagine you have rectified the situation and deliver the printing on the correct paper, you should think about what you can do retrieve some goodwill. Maybe you give the customer a significant discount on the order, or you throw in something of a complimentary nature to "ease the discomfort" suffered by your customer. After all, research has shown that it costs a lot more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.

And the final aspect of service recovery involves you and your team reviewing why the problem happened in the first place, and how you can prevent a recurrence of the problem. Is there a procedure that needs tightening up? Does an employee need a bit more training? Remember, if you've recruited good people, then they would not have intended to make a mistake, so try and see what can be learned from the experience and be careful of simply blaming an employee without having got all the facts.

So in summar, effective service recovery when things go wrong can help to retain customer loyalty that otherwise would have been lost to your small business. We all make mistakes some time - the measure of your resilience is how you recover from them

Motivating your staff

High and consistent levels of customer service will only be delivered by motivated staff. As the owner and manager of your small business you have a vested interest in the success of the business. But how do you create a feeling of "ownership" in your staff? How do you get them feeling some enthusiasm for the business and engage them in what you are trying to achieve?

For some great tips and advice on staff motivation, have a look at How To Motivate Employees