Whether you got it from books, had a mentor tell it to you straight, or learned from a bad experience as a customer yourself, it stills bears repeating: Businesses need to respect their customers — these people are their lifeblood.
Customers don’t stay where they don’t feel welcome or heard. Customers won’t stay when they feel that they’re being mistreated, cheated, or used. Entire libraries have been written about taking care of customers, and in the course of human error, we still fumble when it comes to providing good customer service.
There are basic steps that all businesses should take to give better customer service than the competition. There are also right and wrong ways to handle customer complaints, as well as some misguided ways of thinking that can lead to poor service.
Here are 6 principles to help you handle the customer relationship well.
1) Take the long view for your business and build for it.
Have you ever thought of cultivating customers relationships like an orchard?
One-time purchases are one thing, but people know that selling once doesn’t automatically beget a relationship, and for businesses to survive and thrive long-term, they have to be about relationships.
Think about all the money and labor that goes in converting leads into sales. Consider the effort invested in identifying and channeling high-value sales-leads into your most frequent, loyal customers — your ‘raving fans’.
Cultivation in this sense means paying attention and taking care of the customers you’ve earned through your hard work. You want to keep them, you have to take care of the ones you’ve got. You planted the seeds of trust, you nurture the relationships you’ve built, and you grow an ‘orchard.’
It’s not just “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” and all. Build enough customer relationships and you also build a community. A community take time to grow and to maintain, but when you take care of it, it can also offer you support in return.
A supportive customer community is also your best advertising and marketing tool. They can promote you with recommendations and word-of-mouth advertising.
Based on the phenomenon of “raving fans”, all businesses serious about their survival need to build strong, long-term customer relationships, and their business practices and philosophies need to reflect that.
Business isn’t just about closing sales — not if they want to to be great ones. Businesses can also be change agents. when you keep making good products and work to maintain good relationships with your customers, you can make a real difference.
2)”No,” isn’t an easy thing to say in business, and knowing when and how to say it is a valuable skill.
Being able to say “No,” helps protect your boundaries, your time and your energy.
Maybe it makes you flash back to when you were young and and were told it was rude to refuse when you were offered or asked something….but you’re grown now, and you have the choice, the power, the obligation and the responsibility to ensure nobody encroached on what’s important and necessary to you.
Life moves faster now, demands more, and you can give your energy away when you don’t say no.
There are many situations in life where saying no gives us what we need to do our tasks well. Saying no lifts the pressure from other people’s requests, offering or demands. Saying no protects us from being over-committed, and from the stress of having to answer to too many expectations, as well as save us from the build-up of resentment because you may feel you were pressured into taking things on.
Saying no doesn’t always mean saying the word “No.” You can be polite and refuse delicately. At worst, if you cannot provide what a customer is demanding, saying no can free both of your up for more suitable opportunities.
3) Keep current of market research
Time passes, trends and fads rise and fall, and you need to be aware of the factors affecting your customers and your market. Your fortunes are inescapably tied to both.
You can uses market research to survey potential markets to grow your business. You can research your area, you competitors, ask your customers through surveys, etc. and use the information to develop new ways to create more value for your business. Even the simple survey of asking customers how they found you can pinpoint a new way of reaching out to your market.
The tip to market research is to begin with the end in mind. Look for specific answers to specific questions. Example: you can send your mailing list a short survey on how and where you can help improve your service/products for them.
4) Ask for feed-back regularly.
“No news is good news” leaves your ass in the air as you bury your head in the sand, thinking things are doing swell when you have no accurate idea if they truly are. Things may be going on behind the scenes that can affect you negatively if you aren’t aware and don’t address them.
Commercial pilots fly airplanes, but their on-board computers make millions of calculations and micro-corrections in the flight-path so everybody gets to where they plan to go. Asking for feedback gives you the data for micro-corrections. You want satisfied customers? You want to know if they’re happy? You want to make sure? Ask them. Follow up.
An excellent side effect of gathering information this way is you also collect a lot of testimonials you can use to promote the business. And when you do hear negative feedback, use it.
Use it as a turnaround point to improve on what was pointed out. Don’t take it as a personal attack or failing. Better to hear it and fix it than have customers silently leave and you never know why. You need to know what your customers think of your business so you can ensure they think well of it, and keep on doing so.
5) Customers stay when they get their needs met and their wants satisfied. Satisfy their expectations.
Make sure your product delivers. Customer service is about meeting expectations. People have certain expectations as to what they will get in return for their money when they pay for your products. Marketing and advertising helps set those expectations, and at the very least, you need to meet them.
6) Have a solid plan to handle complaints.
Something you need to remember is that you can’t please all the people all the time. You will at some point have to deal with unhappy customers, and there are right and wrong ways to engage with them.
If they tell you that they are unhappy, take that as an opportunity to ask why and use that instance to help address the situation prompter. You can still change the situation around, and help satisfy the customer.
When an unhappy customer leaves without saying why — well, they can also share their bad experience by word-of-mouth to everyone else but you. That’s why it’s so important to keep checking in with your customers. It’s easier when you hear about a problem directly, because then you can deal with it.
Taking a complaint personally is the wrong way to handle it. Being argumentative only serves to escalate the situation. which is the last thing you should do. You need to have protocols in place aimed towards resolving complaints with respect and fairness towards the customer.
Nobody likes to be made to feel their opinion has been ignored, or is insignificant. Sometimes, just a good-mannered apology and an offer to help address the issue can get the customer to offer his own solution, and that way, you both help resolve the issue.
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