Recently I was asked the question what is customer service? At first it would appear that this is an easy question to answer until I reflected on my past experiences in dealing with customers and how the perception of customer service has shifted with age of e-commerce. To answer the question, I started by stating what customer service is not. Then proceeded to give some keys about customer service that has helped us unlock many doors that I wanted to share. It is certainly not an exhaustive list simply keys that we have found very useful. Please share with us others that you have found helpful in your business that we can add to ours.
Customer service at its core is about developing personal relationships with another human being. The more effective you are at listening, identifying, finding solutions, owning mistakes and giving; the more people will trust you and your company and that trust relationship will translate into certificates of appreciation or what is commonly known as money.
What customer service is not. It is not what you or I say it is as business owners. The individual giving us certificates of appreciation (money) in exchange for a product or service dictates what it is. There are many different definitions that we try to impose onto our customers as to what we think customer service is. Customer service is a continual process that does not stop with a purchase, it is on-going. Our customers are our employers and we work for them. Which means again, that they define what customer service is not us. They have the power to make us adjust our policies and dictate whether or not we will be in business down the road. I do not know about you but that is real power when you can keep a business going or shut it down. The most vital asset of a company is its customers. Know who is the boss, it is the customer. I know we don't like it but let's try to grow our businesses without a customer base and see what happens.
Customer service is not a separate department, it is everyone's responsibility. The moment we pick up the phone, respond to an e-mail or send out promotion material customer service is already activated. Some people even in face to face contact do not care about small talk, eye contact or you smiling. They simply want to come and pick up their product or service when it was promised and leave. To them that is customer service because it is what they wanted.
Here are my Five Keys to unlock customer service:
Be an active listener. Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions to find out what the customer is really saying. Listen to their words, the tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, how they feel. Watch out in thinking you intuitively know what the customer wants. Remember it is not about you.
Identify and anticipate needs. Customers don't just buy products or services. They buy solutions to problems, they buy the experience of dealing with you. This is why people will drive farther, shop only at a particular website because they are purchasing the experience that goes with the product or service and that begins with us. Make them feel like there is no one else more important than them.
Find a way to get it done. Always look for ways to help your customers. When they have a request (as long as it is reasonable) tell them that you can do it. Figure out how afterward. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy. Always do what you say you are going to do. People simply have to many choices and so little time to be fooling with companies that make it difficult to do business with.
Know how to apologize. When something goes wrong, own it. It's easy and customers like it when companies stand up and acknowledge it. It brings the company to a human level and shows that they understand people. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done. Make it simple for customers to complain. Value their complaints. As much as we dislike it, it gives us an opportunity to get better. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable. You get more out of people when you are nice to them.
Try to give a little more than expected. Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to rise above the competition. Consider the following:
- What can you give customers that they cannot get elsewhere?
- Always be looking for ways to improve?
- What can you give customers that is totally unexpected?
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