Caring for your customers can be a serious competitive advantage
You cannot claim you put your customers first until you actually do that. The money quote does not get that way without you doing a bit of "show me the money" work.
Entrepreneurs who build a business have customers - people who come back fro second and third transactions. Repeat business is based upon this kind of feedback: You show me you care, you're easy to talk with, you solve the problem.
Customer service is the best form of marketing you could ever execute, even when you call it operations, or design of experience. It's an attitude.
With every interaction, you have the opportunity to make a person whole, develop a relationship, and get a referral. That means that you helped them see you care about their needs, you are listening and hearing what they're saying, and they will win friends when they send people your way.
Not a small feat.
3 things you can do today
1. Provide exceptionally good service
That is defined by the customer, but you can get a good idea when you do. If you don't want your customers to kick at and shake the vending machine, fix it. Good service is for average people and none of your customers are average - each is a different person with different needs.
How do you scale that?
You do it by listening and hearing the request and problem when it is first presented. Lean forward, don't judge the intent, just take in the issue - then fix it. Do you know how much you lose in reputation and business by asking your customers to fill complex forms, navigate impossible phone systems, and call you back when you're ready?
Pick up the phone on the first ring, answer pleasantly, route the call as appropriate by leveraging your own internal relationships to make sure your colleague has the same sense of urgency you have. Be creative, brainstorm with the customer as necessary. Stop worrying about the form, start talking with your customer.
2. Be the person, humanize your business
I bet you if I polled you, you would tell me the names of the people you do business with - Mike the mechanic, Jim the personal trainer, Rose the hair dresser, Kathy the insurance person. They personify the brand in your eyes. As far as you're concerned, they are the company - your experience of the company depends upon the relationship you have with them.
How do you scale that?
Hire well, train better, provide incentives by rewarding the behavior of those who are customer advocates. Do you know who are the people customers love in your company? As customers we don't always provide feedback when someone is caught doing something right - we should. The feedback that comes is called referral - that we provide, if you inspire it, you hardly need to ask for it.
Say you're sorry, it's your fault. Give even the angriest or rudest customers pause. Then move to correct it. Stay in problem solving mode. That is the best way to gain credibility and diffuse rudeness. Ask questions, be interested in what input your customers are willing to give you. Customers can be rude, I know, especially in a retail setting. Don't lower your standards, be polite, pleasant, and helpful. The other customers in the story will notice both behaviors and empathize with you.
Let your customers know what you are doing and are going to do at every step of the way. Follow through when you say you will, educate, teach, explain what is going on. Don't just say why a problem occurred (take note, for some people this is a deal breaker), explain how you're going to fix it and when you expect it fixed.
How do you scale that? If several customers are affected, select a member from your team to be the personal concierge for each customer or each group. This will let them feel the personal touch and will allow you to communicate personally rather than impersonally.
It's also good to use the active voice and active verbs - today something happened to a group of people is harder to take than the power in your block is still out for this reason. In your communications stay positive, proactive, and responsive. If you have new information, share it.
In an interconnected world, a problem in one company can affect many more customers than the direct few. Like in the case of PJM Interconnection, as I wrote a couple of years back, they give you power, but you never heard of them.
Do you get exceptionally good service? Do feel you need to push companies to help you? When you make a requests, is the attitude of company representatives to your standards?
[edited from the archives]