Taking the time to provide great customer service is critical to the success of your business—at least, it is if you want to inspire repeat customers. According to the book Outside-In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, statistical evidence tells us that a positive customer experience is one that meets customer needs, is easy, and highly enjoyable. Well-trained employees are certainly one part of the puzzle. But below are several hints, tips and strategies that can aid them, and help you bring other pieces of the puzzle together.
Hear Audiences’ Voice
Rather than prerecorded messages or canned email addresses, provide customers with access to individuals who can swiftly and successfully handle their concerns. You’ll also want to put a prioritization system in place that allows you to escalate pressing or more potent concerns. Remember: The less frustrated you leave your customers, the better off you’re going to be. Take the time to open channels of communication, hear their concerns, and answer in prompt fashion to the best of your ability—customers expect faster and more meaningful responses in a world of 24/7 business and growing connectivity.
Listen to Customers’ Needs
When you respond to your customers, and do so in a positive fashion that acknowledges the points they’ve presented, you demonstrate that you’re actually listening to them. Rather than take criticism at a negative, simply look at it as form of feedback as well—feedback that can help you improve your business. Putting your customer first, listening to the issues and arguments they present, and respond dutifully in goes a long way towards creating satisfied customers—and, ultimately, more business.
Leverage the Power of Social Media
Social media services, networks and online communications channels can provide a powerful and effective way to stay in constant contact with your customers. Whether you interact through an official profile or page, or send out periodic posts and updates is less important than the act of doing so: Technology is just a tool that facilitates human interaction. Make it easy for customers to find you, interact with you, and share your insights and expertise—and give them to opportunity to feel like a meaningful part of your brand, and contributor to the conversation.
Go Above and Beyond
Mediocre service is often recalled and average service dismissed—but exemplary service is seldom forgotten, and something any business can provide. One simple example at retail example are the many clothing stores which take patently unused, unwashed items back, no questions ask, which provide incentive to come back and shop with them again. Why? They’re not a pain in the ascot to deal with.
Depending on the nature of your business, providing just a little bit of extra time and attention can help make the customers feel more valued. As Starbucks executives put it, they’re not in the business of serving people coffee, they’re in the business of coffee, serving people. Whether taking the form of a smile, small note of thanks, or just spending extra time with shoppers at check-out, it doesn’t always take much to demonstrate that you appreciate their business. Quite often, it’s the little things we do that stand out.
Entrepreneur magazine notes that going above and beyond is especially important when a customer has complained or there is a problem with a purchase. If an order is delayed, call the customer personally or automatically keep them informed with updates on its status and expected arrival time. If you can, take 20% off the cost or hand-deliver the merchandise when it arrives. In other words, be attuned to others’ needs and concerns, and do what you can to address them—i.e. put a premium on positive interactions.
Run surveys, polls, and contests—but whichever vehicle you use to connect with customers, be sure to solicit their opinions, and ask them what they think. Many times, you’ll get great new ideas (studies by Booz & Co. show that customers are the number one source of innovation), but in virtually all cases, you’ll boost the sense of contribution that customers feel they’re making to your business. By showing that you care about their opinions and feedback, their perspective on and experience interacting with your business can be made even more enjoyable. Even if customers don’t take advantage of these vehicles, the fact that you are offering a way for them to share their feedback and to respond will help them feel acknowledged and valued.
Providing proactive customer service also allows you to discover elements of your business or its operations that can be enhanced or optimized, or if customers are experiencing problems, without first being directly alerted by your audience. In other words, you can surprise and delight shoppers before they’ve had a chance to hoist a phone or fire up the PC. That’s what we call creating a positive impression.
Don’t Stop At The Sale
The customer journey doesn’t stop at the point of purchase: It just enters a new phase of a circular cycle. Thanks to social media, word of mouth communication, and online reviews, it’s imperative to provide great follow-up to retain interest, loyalty and positive public opinion. Many businesses work to bend over backwards—but only until they get their money. By providing great customer service after the sale, you can establish a deeper, more meaningful bond with your customer—and one that’s harder to break the next time they, or those they share opinions with, go through the buying process. As Fast Company recently pointed out, the degree to which we trust others, including businesses and brands, depend on how we perceive their intentions. Customers are constantly asking: Are you acting in and respecting their best interests?
Never Take Customers for Granted
This means never expecting a customer to do what you want, when you want, and how you want them to do it. Treat returning customers like new shoppers, and reach out to and interact with them with the same enthusiasm, energy and genuine care as when first courting them to try your products or services. Slow down and take the time to really appreciate the fact that these loyal supporters are helping keep you in business, despite the wealth of alternatives at their fingertips. Don’t rush through every transaction and support issue. Get to know and value these customers, and go out of your way to make them feel like they’re your number one buyer.
Create a Feeling of Belonging
Quite often, your customers will purchase a product or service from your business because of personal interests. By creating an atmosphere of openness and invitation, and one where others are enabled and encouraged to engage in constructive discussion and debate with others with similar interest, you can help keep them wanting to come back and share in the experience again. Build a welcoming, inviting and safe place for customers that they trust, and you can create a world of goodwill and repeat business.
In the long run, creating an effective and positive customer experience at every stage of the buying cycle can be a powerful tool in your battle to win customers over, and retain them over time. Don’t discount its importance, or potential impact on your organization.