Years ago, I insisted that the people who worked for my company know a basic philosophical tenet. One that the company was founded on and one that could not be strayed from: "People Before Profits." It is something that is extremely important to me, and the basis of what we, as an organization, stand for.
The customer came first, period. They were the ones who told others how well we treated them. They were the ones who would come back, time and time again to buy from us. They were the ones who helped us expand and who monitored our service. They were they ones who wore our products and premiums. They were the ones who paid our salaries, rents, utilities, etc., and enabled us to buy more products to sell them. Without them, there would be no business.
Too often in today's society we find that customer service, relations and care has evaporated like water that sits in a glass for days without anyone paying attention to it. And that analogy is what causes customers to run to competitors.
How often have you walked into a department store, supermarket, boutique, law firm, accounting firm, insurance or doctor's office only to find that there's no one available to help you? You wait, scream out for help and still not a soul comes forward, or worse, when they do, it's with an attitude because you're interrupting their activities, personal phone conversation, water cooler gossip, etc. Eventually, you evaporate from the premises. A customer just waiting to hand over your hard-earned money but frustrated when you realize that no one wants to take it.
So, how do we avoid sending our hard-fought for patrons from bolting out-of-sight? First, acknowledge people, and never, ever, ever say, "Can I help you?" especially if you're in retail. Why? Because you already know what the answer is going to be 95 percent of the time: "No thanks, just looking." So why ask it?
The fact is, we're almost culturally programmed for that response. Instead, start by greeting people with, "Hi, have you visited us before?"
Of course, that's only if you don't recognize them. If you do, then "Hi Pat (or whatever their name is), glad to see you again," is a great way to acknowledge someone. We all like to be remembered by name and you should learn how to remember your customers' names. Just that one element begins to build that all-important rapport.
If the customer is new and the response to your greeting is "no," then you may want to say, "Welcome, thanks for stopping in, I'm Dan, what's your name?" Making someone feel like a guest in your establishment is very comforting. Remember, customers buy and carry on business relationships with people they like and feel care about them.
Keep a list of pertinent facts about each customer: their spouse's name, kids names, likes, dislikes, birthdays, etc. Then you can start to do and say those little things that help build a solid relationship.
Now that we've got acknowledgement and respect in order, we have to make sure that we listen to our customers. Asking them probing questions and allowing them to respond or giving them the opportunity to "vent" and/or tell us what's on their mind - without interrupting - enables us to understand their needs and react favorably to them. Once you understand their needs and wants, then you must
follow-up on their requests efficiently and effectively. A timely response is worth a thousand phone calls. Respond to them even if you don't have all the information.
Show reliability in what you do. If you can't be reliable for your customers, then it won't be long before you won't have to be!
Not that long ago, a survey listed the reasons why customers defected. The list was extremely revealing:
- 3 percent relocated
- 5 percent developed new relationships (i.e., my brother-in-law just became a CPA and if I don't use him there'll be big problems)
- 9 percent defect for competitive reasons (i.e., I have to rearrange my finances and the store across town is less expensive)
- 14 percent are unhappy with the product, service or location (i.e., it didn't work for me and besides, there's another office much closer to my home now)
- 68 percent defect because of a negative attitude or apathy shown by the store or office employees, including management and ownership
customers can be saved from defection with some empathy, care, consideration, help, listening, and timely, effective resolution.
How much money and time is wasted looking for new customers that could be saved by just holding on to old ones?
Another amazing thing is that these defections don't happen overnight. There is almost always a frustrating build-up and warning signs. The complaining begins and no one addresses the need. The customer's shipment comes in wrong and the manufacturer's office doesn't respond quickly enough. The patient needs care and the doctor makes them wait forever. The claim needs to be filed and nobody returns the client's call. A call, ane-mail or a fax is all it takes at the beginning - just a response.
Figure out what it's going to take to turn the customer around and make them happy - then do it. Of course,
if keeping customers happy is what you do as a matter of policy, then
you won't have to turn too many customers around.
It's also important that you fully understand what the problem really is. Never make assumptions. And when it comes to rectifying the situation, you may want to respond by asking the customer, "If you were me, what would you do?" And guess what, they'll tell you. Of course, there may be some extenuating circumstances that won't allow you to do what they've requested, but at least you have a starting point that will enable you to satisfy the customer.
You can follow their response with, "You've made some good points and I'll do the best I can to fulfill your requests, however, in case our policy won't enable me to do that, what I can do is X, Y or Z. Now let's suppose you could pick one of those options - which one would it be?" Obviously, these are just suggestions that would be put into your situation, but they give you some dialogue to start with. The customer will be more than happy to guide you along and you can even begin to calm down the irate ones. The goal, of course, is to never get to that point.
If you can be proactive, rather than reactive, you can also avoid a lot of problems. If you know that a shipment will be late, then call the customer first. If you have an overflow of patients, call those scheduled or tell those in the waiting room that it may be a bit longer wait but you'll do the best that you can. You, the doctor, should do that and not the staff. But do something that will help them feel more comfortable.
In addition, it is important to keep your customers informed about new procedures, inventory, services, etc. This doesn't mean that you only send them a newsletter once a month. Call them and tell them what's going on.
If you're into serving them, then do it! Let them know that you're aware of their desires (i.e., the customer who likes to buy the latest items should be called when a shipment comes in; the one who could benefit from a change in a legal code should be updated; etc.).
Quality customer service has another major factor. More than anything, it's about how you view yourself. Do you take pride in what you do? Do you have self-respect? Do you care about people and how what you do affects them? Are you secure enough to admit your own mistakes and shortcomings and do something about them? Do you realize that what you do reflects positively or negatively on you? Realize that customer service is as much about you and your organization as it is about your customers.
In today's environment, with the "new" economy intermingling with the "old," it becomes more and more apparent that quality customer service is vitally important. Nothing will ever replace personal interaction.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned a phrase that has been a part of my business philosophy from my first day in business, "People Before Profits." It may sound like a contradiction in terms in this capitalist, "make lots of money fast," environment, but I've found it to be just the opposite. If you put "People Before Profits," it won't be long before you start seeing more and more business, and with that business, more and more profit.
Quality customer service is more than three little words; it's a credo that should lead your business into the world of growth and prosperity.
Dan Goldberg is the President of Dan Goldberg Consulting, L.L.C. a training, coaching and business development firm in Philadelphia. Reach him at 215.233.5352 or via e-mail at email@example.com.