Tuesday, December 20, 2011

7 Essential Tips on Improving Customer Service

In the year 2012 that we are rapidly approaching, we must get perfect in customer service -- or perish.

Perfect customer service?

Of course. What other kinds are there? In the minds of your customers, service is bipolar. It's either great or it's horrible. Very rarely is customer service considered okay or merely adequate. People tend to rave happily about a business -- or complain bitterly. There's almost no neutral ground.

Customer service is the Achille's heel of American business. That's where the vast majority of your competitors are vulnerable. Most of them refuse to even consider how to perfect their relationships with customers. Arrogance, deficiency in self-awareness, lack of marketing savvy, fear of change, fear of confronting mediocre employees, and passively hoping for a miracle are responsible for much of this inertia.

The prevailing ideology seems to be: provide desirable products at a good price. Why is it then that this business model is failing? Why are so many customers disgruntled? Why are customers running off to each new competitor that sets up shop in their community? Why are customers lacking in loyalty and sluggish about telling their friends about a company?

Here are some basic, fundamental insights into how you can enhance your customer service to gain a competitive advantage and ensure the survival and growth of your business.

On a personal note, as a marketing consultant and web content provider, I take these recommendations seriously and strive to implement them in my own business.

7 Essential Tips on 
Improving Customer Service

(1) Know thyself -- how do you really feel about customers?

Ask yourself if you really, sincerely, deeply care about your customers in the first place. Are they just wallets that you hope will open and from which cash and plastic money springs forth?

Or do you really sympathize with the needs, hopes, dreams, and desires of the people who shop at your store or pay you for your services?

(2) Know your products -- how are customers really using them?

Don't assume that because you know the product description and stats, you understand the needs these products are fulfilling. You might be astonished at the actual reasons why people buy a particular product, or what they really do with it and how they personally feel about the product.

You don't understand products by talking to vendors, viewing TV commercials, studying brochures, or reading catalog copy. The only way to truly comprehend what a product means to a customer is to do some customer research.

One way to accomplish this research is to simply get out by the cash registers and ask some customers how they plan to use a product or what they like about it. Most customers will feel flattered that the boss, owner, manager, or CEO is actually asking for their opinions and showing interest in their feelings.

(3) Know your customers -- by talking with them in person.

Do you spend much time talking with customers? Do you try to get to know their needs and what they're trying to accomplish through the purchase of products? Or do you hide in your office in the back of the store or company headquarters? Could you sketch out a realistic composite description of a typical customer, what their average age, income, education, experiences, philosophy, mood, lifestyle, family is like?

(4) Know your customers -- by interacting with them on social media.

Go beyond just setting up social network profiles and fan pages. Get in there and click on Like and Share buttons. Post comments on other people's status updates. Reply personally to comments on your page.

Do NOT just delegate these duties to an outside consultant, an intern, a designated employee, or your internal marketing staff. They may be speaking and interacting on your behalf, which is what you're paying them to do, but they need you to set an example now and then. Would it kill you to step in from time to time and speak in your own voice and share your thoughts, your expertise, or your industry savvy?

(5) Know your competitors -- check out what they're doing to satisfy customers.

Go to the websites of your competitors. Do they suck? Are they ugly, dysfunctional, difficult to use and to navigate? Are there no photos of the staff? Do the sites seem cold, aloof, uncaring, boring?

Go to the blogs of your competitors. Are they consistently providing interesting information? Are they sharing expertise and insights? Or are they just hyping and pushing sales messages over and over?

Go to the stores or business offices of your competitors. Are you treated like a friend or a wallet? Do you feel welcome? Does the staff treat you with respect and joy? Or are you treated like a nuisance?

What are your competitors doing to satisfy customers? Are there any ideas that you could use and adapt to your own business? Are there any blind spots you can take advantage of? Any lessons, positive or negative, to be learned from how your competitors treat customers?

(6) Know your staff -- are they conscientious and continually in training?

How good are your employees when it comes to satisfying customers and treating them properly? Do you spend the time necessary to observe them or test them? Do you tolerate bitter, surly, careless employees, or do you have a high standard of service that is constantly and fairly enforced?

Do you have some employees that do their job, but without joy, without caring much about the customers or products, without trying to remain kind and helpful at all times? Do your employees really know enough to assist customers in solving problems and picking the right product for their purposes?

Training should be perpetually ongoing to some degree. It can cost you nothing. There are so many tutorials and informative blogs and free training sites online, you can easily assign training material to your staff, then test them on  it.

Buy them books on topics related to your field, and make them write book reports or take a quiz on the information contained in the books.

Give them special projects in sales training, industry expertise, competitive analysis, and product knowledge. Make it mandatory. Weed out the slackers and the mediocre, the disrespectful dolts and the indifferent clock watchers.

Help your dedicated employees to keep progressing in their understanding of your general field of service and in the nuts and bolts of what you sell.

(7) Know your impact on employees -- set a good, imitated example.

Don't just mandate better customer service. Show your employees how it's done. Be the shining role model they expect you to be. Meet a customer need, right there on the sales floor where everyone can watch it happen. Make a big sale. Welcome a new customer. Congratulate a current customer on going with a great product choice.

Make small talk chit chat with people as they enter your business. Crack a few jokes. Ask some pertinent questions. Express genuine interest in customers, their families, their occupation, their hobbies, and their needs that are related to what you sell.

Your goal should be to replicate your own zeal, compassion, enthusiasm, and knowledge in each person who works for you, as you yourself keep surpassing your own achievements and savvy.

CONCLUSION: Keep these tips in mind and you'll be well on your way to superior customer service, perfecting it on an ongoing, deeply committed basis.

You'll benefit from a startling increase in customer loyalty, increased sales, and new customer acquisition.

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