Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Customer Service Is Not Just A Slogan

I've heard it. You've heard it. The lady down the street has heard it. We've all heard it. 

"The customer is always right". 

Even when they are in your face wrong they are always right.

In the growing world of micro handmade businesses there is an ever increasing pressure to be better than your competition. 

I am sure you believe you provide great customer service and for the most part you do. We all think we have great customer service when it comes to our own businesses and at times feel justified in believing it's all "their" fault when conflict occurs.

But, are you actually setting yourself up for the conflict in the first place?

Sometimes when I am browsing a website or more commonly a Facebook page and I will read something to make me pause and think, "that's only going to get you in trouble later". Rudeness, being less than courteous with customers and even totally ignoring them, these actions are building towards conflict and they are easily avoidable.

You need to remember that to your audience, your customers, the buck stops with you. It is not professional to whinge and whine on your site about suppliers or other businesses. You need to take ownership of every aspect of your business and if sometimes things don't go to plan then apologise, reset deadlines and move on.  

Take for example, Lululemon Athletics, who recently responded to complaints about their product quality in an interview by blaming the customer, yep, apparently a yoga pant can't withstand your thighs rubbing together! This is an excellent example of not only not having done sufficient product research but also not understanding who your actual customer is. The ladies buying their product were not the few genetically blessed with having a gap between their thighs nor were they the unfortunate souls afflicted by eating disorders. They are real women, with real bodies and using their product as all women would. By not understanding their market and their product there was never going to be a good outcome for them. They were setting themselves up for a big FAIL. 

So what can you do to be as stellar performer with customer service? 

Eliminate all doubt. Have clearly defined policies for your business and be as thorough as possible. Include everything from how to purchase, timelines for delivery, shipping, returns and even communication. 

Be responsive. Respond to customer emails / messages / comments in a timely fashion. If you have limited time available in your business then ensure your site clearly states the time frames you will respond in. Otherwise, remove the message function from your page and instead have customers email you so you can have an auto-respond message which will reply to all  received emails. This will enable you to let the customer know that their message has been received and when they should expect you to respond.

Use plain direct language. Be clear and concise in your communications with your customers, do not leave any interpretation or room for misunderstanding. If what you have written could be interpreted in more than one way re-write it!

Under promise and over deliver. Under promise and over deliver. Under promise and over deliver. Got it?

Own your business. If you have a delay or issue be upfront and honest about it, don't make excuses again and again and take OWNERSHIP even if the delay is not your fault and ESPECIALLY if the delay is your fault. Email the affected customers directly and if you don't get an acknowledgement for them then announce on your site that you have sent an email to the affected people. Don't create a drama about it for people to engage in.

Take control of your site. Remember it is your site for your business, if conflict arises contact people directly to sort it out otherwise move on and do not engage. I recommend you using this infograph if you need help to decide when to engage and when not to. Do NOT have negative posts on your site! Being disrespectful of other businesses and/or customers is not only bad for your image but down right rude! Learn this and EMBRACE it If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all.

When it comes to your business you need to be the better person. ALWAYS. You cannot allow the frailties of human nature best you and allow yourself to engage in any behaviour that might reflect badly on your business. Remember that this is not limited to just your branded locations online, if you use Facebook as a medium to connect with your customers and if you are a member of any groups on Facebook KEEP YOUR BUSINESS HAT ON ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS. Do not trust that anything you post in a group is sacred to the group. TRUST ME ON THIS ONE! I have learned the hard way.

Providing great customer service is the easiest way for you to market your business. When someone has a great experience dealing with you then they are more likely to return for repeat business and better yet, they are more likely to refer you to their network.

On a personal note, great customer service doesn't come easy and to some people it doesn't come naturally. Being able to remain professional and remain true to your business policies while being tested at each turn by a dissatisfied customer is the true test of great customer service. Trust me on this, many years on the front counter for Local Government has given me many many tests of my customer service skills. And remember, you have the benefit of not being face to face or even on the phone (usually) so take advantage of that and if you feel yourself getting emotional .... STEP THE HELL AWAY FROM YOUR KEYBOARD.

I hope this helps you stand out from your competition.

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