4. Know your customers. Most business owners have no idea how their customers see them. They don't know what it's like to do business with their own company, because that's not a situation they've ever observed first hand. This lack of understanding can lead business owners to misjudge the effectiveness of their own customer care practices. Customer surveys are effective for getting to know what your customers think about your company. Provide customers with a means to give feedback at the time of purchase or project completion in the form of a report card that measures your work in several areas. This information is valuable in continuing to improve the performance of your company. Another way is to talk directly with your customers about their experience dealing with your firm. Sit down and ask them about their experience. Ask them for suggestions on how you could do things better. Or what they don't like. Talking directly to your customers is the fastest and cheapest way to gauge how your company is doing customer service wise. Share the results of customer feedback and surveys with your employees so that they can see how customers are responding and to cultivate a sense of group responsibility for performance.
5. Deal with complaints quickly. Customer dissatisfaction will only grow the longer it takes you to respond to a complaint. A fast response, and a willingness to work with the customer, can turn an upset customer into a repeat customer. Dealing with dissatisfied customers is one of the most important and delicate interactions a business faces. A study by Technical Assistance Research Programs Institute found that up to ninety-one percent of unhappy customers who made a big purchase will never come back and even among small-item purchasers, 63 percent will go elsewhere if they feel dissatisfied with their experience. This can have a dramatic impact on a business's bottom line. Other research indicates that reducing non-returning, dissatisfied customers by just five percent can double a company's profits. The most important thing in handling a customer complaint is making sure that the customer feels that he or she is being heard. Nothing increases customer anger more than the impression that the company doesn't care. Whether it's the business owner himself, a project manager, an estimator or the superintendent talking with the customer, it's important to make sure the customer knows that someone is listening. Empathizing with the customer and reassuring him or her about the importance of their complaint and their continued business with the company is critical in resolving a problem. Apologize to the customer in a way that doesn't blame anyone for the problem. Say your sorry that they've had a bad experience and that you want to make things right. Just saying you're sorry-even if you admit no blame-goes a long way toward cooling off someone who's upset. Shifting the blame elsewhere won't work and may only further antagonize the customer. Remember, 87 percent of angry customers will tell their friends and associates about what happened and that could cost you a lot more in potential business. Creating a customer service-oriented culture within your business is extremely important. It's also important to be very clear about the way employees are to treat and interact with customers. Employees need to have enough flexibility when dealing with a customer-especially a dissatisfied customer- so that they can handle a customer complaint without frustrating the customer any more.
6. Reinforce good service. Reward employees who "go the extra mile" to make customers happy to reinforce the customer service culture you want. Such rewards can take the form of a bonus, or an extra vacation day, a plaque or mention in a company newsletter.
Remember, no company gets it right all the time. Mistakes happen. Communication can get garbled. Errors occur in billing. Preventing errors is an important task for any company, but dealing with mistakes is equally critical. How you handle a mistake will directly determine whether you ever see that customer again. Most customers are perfectly willing to overlook a mistake on your part so long as they feel you've truly apologized and fixed the problem. Building a customer focused strategy for your company takes time, effort and consistency but the reward is a strong, growing business.
Linda Hanson, CMC, is a certified management consultant and author of 10 Steps to Marketing Success. She writes, speaks and consults on marketing, management and customer service issues and can be contacted at www.llhenterprises.com. Sign up for her free newsletter The Superior Performance Report.