Be Awesome at Customer Service or Die a Slow Death

Sticky post it note with "Thank You" wording.When you offer no more value to a customer than your competitors do, the only thing you can compete on is price.

As a small business, once you enter that arena, you're done.

How can you compete on price (or anything) with Amazon?  What about Walmart or Target or any other giant box retailer that can undercut you and starve you out until you have nothing left.  You can't, you have to deliver something beyond decent service and decent prices.

You have to deliver an experience.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

You want your customers feeling good about their interactions with your business.  Even after you screwed up and let them down, there are multiple opportunities to make things better and create a loyal customer.

Too often, businesses fail to look at customer service as a marketing channel, even a profit center if run properly.  The support you deliver will determine if that customer buys from you again, tells their friends about you or turns to social media to let millions of people know how your business wronged them like the video below.

My Blendtec Story

My wife recently purchased a Blendtec blender made somewhat famous from  the popular “Will it Blend” series on Youtube.  Let's just say it's not your average blender.  It's definitely not inexpensive and was a planned purchase months in the making.  We were really excited to try out everything it had to offer (it can do a lot) and read through the recipe book, spent a bundle on food from the super market and got ready to spend a week of experimenting.  It broke on the second day.  It sucked, we were bummed out.  It was a Sunday when we called customer support and got a voicemail message, I don't think they provide live support on Sundays.  We left a message describing our situation.  On Monday morning a customer service rep called us back and listened to our story.  She was outraged at the experience we had with the blender and said they would mail us a replacement immediately and apologized.  It arrived the next day via FedEx overnight and they upgraded us so we received a second blender jar at no cost. They turned a potentially negative experience into one where they now have a raving fan who is blogging about his experience to thousands of people.

That's what great customer service can do for your business.

The business that can deliver the best service and support for their products and services are the businesses that will not only survive, but thrive in the hyper-competitive business environment of today.  Delivering excellent customer service and support is what will make you stand out among your competitors.

People have a lot of power in their hands, a few bad reviews can literally ruin your business (if you're small enough).  This doesn't mean that you need to be a butt kisser to every pain in the @ss that walks through your door, but it does mean that you need to take your customer service seriously and understand that too many poor experiences will come back to haunt you.

For the most part, people are generally happy with any kind of decent treatment, you can thank the airline, banking and telecom industries for lowering the customer service bar so low.  But decent service will only get you so far, you need to deliver excellent service.  And this level of service needs to be delivered consistently.

These are some of the things that I feel can make for a great customer service experience.

Say Thank You – These two words go a long way.  Thank your customers for stopping by your store and for making a purchase.  A little surprise like a hand written Post-It note saying thank you when they open their package can go farther than including a coupon or other kind of incentive.  People want to feel appreciated, let them.

Being Positive – Having a positive attitude and using positive language can go a long way in creating a positive atmosphere when working with a customer.  Instead of saying “no, sorry, we don't have that in stock” say something like “we're going to have that in next week, would you like me to put one aside for you and call you when it arrives?”  Keep the experience on the positive side and you'll find your customers responding in-kind.

Follow Up – Whether by email, phone or a hand written note, follow up after the sale to make sure your customer is happy and if they need help with anything.  Provide them with resources they can use to get the most out of your product or service.  Some companies are afraid to reach out after the sale fearing they might open up a “can of worms”.  If you have this fear, maybe you should re-think how you do business and what quality you deliver.  Be proud of what you have to offer and don't be afraid to make sure your customers are getting the most out of their purchase.

Respond Promptly – Have you ever sent an emotionally charged email or voice message and the other person didn't respond? Every crazy thought imaginable enters your mind.  You start playing out sceneries in your mind where the other person is laughing out loud, plotting to ruin you.  Then the next day they call and apologize for the late response, they were out of town. Yeah, all that pain and personal anguish for nothing.  This is how your customers feel when they have a problem and you don't respond promptly, they start telling themselves stories and start gearing up for a potential fight.  Don't let it get to this point, even if you don't have an answer yet, respond immediately and let them know “I'm on it!”

Give Updates – Just like above, if you are working with a customer on solving a problem, don't let them linger too long without communicating with them.  Even if you don't have an answer yet, letting them know that you are still working on a solution and it's still a priority to you will make them feel at ease.  Communication is so important when dealing with potentially sensitive issues.

Let Your Customers Deal With People – Have you ever signed off an email to a customer with, “From your friends at your-business”.  That's all well and good but people want to do business with people, not a faceless entity.  I recommend all customer support communications be signed off with an actual name.  If it's an automated response you are sending, leave the name of the customer service manager or the owner of the business.  People feel much better knowing there is an actual person speaking to them at the other end.

Offer Solutions – Please don't ever tell a customer, “sorry, there's nothing I can do”.  You can always do something, it may not be exactly what the customer wanted, but at least you've offered potential options.  And if you've left your customer service team without the authority to offer solutions to routine problems, then shame on you.  Customer service reps that are solution oriented can often create a very positive outcome (for all parties) from an initially negative experience.

Avoid Passive Aggressive Responses – Have you ever been told by a customer service rep, “I'm sorry you feel that way, our customers are usually very satisfied with our service”.  How this translates to the customer is, “You're the only idiot using our service that doesn't love us so you must be in the wrong here”.  You may not mean it, but avoid passive aggressive responses like this, it can only serve to fan the flames of an already tense situation.  Stop talking when you reach, “I'm sorry”, and start figuring out a way to make things better.

Always Let The Customer End The Interaction – You shouldn't be the one deciding when the situation is resolved, the customer should.  When you think you've reached a successful outcome, ask the customer if there is anything else you can help them with.  Let the customer decide when it's resolved and they are satisfied with the conclusion.

Be awesome at customer service

Whether you're doing it face to face in your little store front or you have a complex support system that services thousands of customers, all of these principals still apply.  The only thing that changes is the system and technology you use to execute it.  If you want to really watch your business grow and your word of mouth marketing take off, look at taking your customer service to the next level.



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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
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