The customer is always king. It might sound like a cliché, but when you think about it, how long has it been since you actually heard somebody say it?
There was a time that customer service was a given. Remember the scene in “Back to the Future” when the lead character arrives in the 1950s to the bizarre sight of a team of gas station attendants descending upon a car? Audiences roared with laughter.
Most of us have probably noticed erosion in customer service. Perhaps your supermarket no longer offers to help you take your groceries to the car. Customer service is nearly dead in the airline industry — no pillows, blankets, meal service or checked luggage. Unless you’re willing to pay extra for it, of course.
The reality is that customer service has been going slowly downhill for years. As profit margins get thinner, companies look for ways to squeeze out every last penny. This means fewer employees under increasing pressure, doing more than ever before.
Protect your reputation
Despite this disturbing trend, neglecting customer satisfaction is a big mistake. It damages the one thing you can’t buy — reputation — and can even prove fatal to a company.
It’s a fiercely competitive environment out there and people won’t come flocking to you just because you make a fancy widget. Somewhere out there, somebody else is making a widget just as fancy as yours, plus he or she is offering great customer service.
While it’s true that we live in an increasingly bottom line-oriented business environment, never forget that your customers are human beings, not just commodities from which you derive revenue.
Give customers what they want
Customers yearn to be taken seriously, listened to, treated with respect and admired. In addition, they desire to be prosperous, happy and loved. To be successful, address these needs and make it your No. 1 priority.
Assume that customers are listening very carefully to what you say, both in one-on-one interactions with staff or by the overall attitude you convey as a company. If they feel you don’t really care, they’ll look for other alternatives.
The power of people
Money is tight in every business, but think twice before cutting back on things that affect customer service. One of my pet peeves is the inability to get a human being when calling a company. Automated attendants are fine, but if a customer wants to reach a person, that option should be made immediately available.
I work in the world of direct response shopping, in which customer service — including being able to get a friendly operator on the line — has always been a priority. This might explain why the industry has continued to do well, even as much of the retail sector has struggled. Even so, extra incentives, such as reduced or free shipping and money back guarantees, have come increasingly into play in order to attract and keep customers.
Running a business is tough and there are a million things that are out of your control. But as customer service continues to deteriorate, take advantage of the situation to differentiate your business. Remember how your mother probably told you to, “Treat others as you would like to be treated?” Success might not always be that simple, but it’s certainly a good place to start. ●
Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has
been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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