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Finding your first customers using great customer service

The hardest part of succeeding in a new business is finding those first customers. An integral part of your business plan then is to define the type of business you have and start convincing people how you can help them. So where do I find my customers? Start by going to where prospective customers go in your line of business. Go to trade and professional groups. If you are new to boat sales, why not go to the closest boat show? There’s a plethora of people looking at boats; some are just window shoppers, but there’s always a buyer in there somewhere.

Continue to spread your name through advertising networks. If you are a new Realtor, for instance, show that you are an expert in your field by writing brief articles and submitting them for free to local trade publications. Don’t make a sales pitch either; do it for the exposure. Never forget to volunteer in your community no matter which profession or career you have chosen; volunteering is free visibility and the ability to network with others in your industry.

Now you have some new customers, but how do you nurture and keep them? Great customer service sets businesses apart very quickly. Once you educate your new customers that you are an expert in your field and can deliver the best products or services, your potential customers will become your reality. If you’re in the manufacturing business or merchandise, concentrate on your goods being delivered in perfect condition. Call your new customer after the items are delivered to make sure everything arrived the way expected, and if not, replace the item(s) immediately.

Now how about those people who just shop around and never buy anything? In real estate sales that can get pretty common, but it can also get expensive since time is money. Find out why they aren’t buying anything. In real estate, it might mean that you are not listening closely enough to the customer to figure out their needs and their specifications. A boat sales person might not be listening to the exact needs of his customer either. Go out of your way to meet the customer’s needs. At the very least, you will have pleased them, and it is likely a referral will come to you somewhere down the line.

And remember, as you now have customers and you are treating them as you would want to be treated in business, continue to nurture the relationship, and show your appreciation often. Send them thank you cards or personal notes; take the extra step and more customers will come.

photo credit: ➨ Redvers

Customer feedback; an important tool for success

Ask a customer what they want from your company or service, and they will tell you. This morning I went to the hairdresser, and when I sat down, Shana asked me if I would like my hair trimmed. She didn’t assume chopping off two inches of length would be right for me; instead she asked me what I wanted. It’s not much different in most other businesses; companies can ask and then act on consumer answers. High ratings for customer satisfaction directly correlates to a happy, knowledgeable and friendly staff. Appreciate the staff, and collect the data to improve customer satisfaction.

Perhaps it is a good idea if a company owner becomes a customer and walks in the shoes of a consumer. Take the example of an internet shoe company. Order a pair of shoes from a competitor; observe their service, tryout their product; become involved in what you are marketing – just participating now and learning from the experience. Are their procedures better than yours, and how can you improve your company? What can you do to make the customer experience even more satisfying than your closest competitor?

Feedback from questionnaires and surveys can supply constructive information. There are well-established techniques which can lend helpful hints, ideas, and preferences. Feedback should not be limited to consumers; have employee participation since representatives dealing with customers are likely to provide important constructive contributions. Employee responses are the best resource and most reliable method to gather customer feedback. As sales and service representatives build a rapport with consumers and clients, trust builds, and it becomes a natural part of an interactive conversation.

Some companies use statistics to follow trends. This might include what products are selling best, competitive pricing, customer repeat business, and sales indications, and preferences. Statistics cannot measure if the customer is getting what they want, or if the company is delivering the product the customer wants. If you are the only game in town or the least expensive, statistical information might not be any guarantee of how well you are doing.

Analyze your direct competition, talk to their customers so you know what customers think, and never forget that we run our businesses for our customers. People want to do business with people they respect; let’s build from there.

photo credit: hi-lo

Little things make a difference for customer satisfaction

I distinctly remember the last time I received poor customer service; it was last week when I had an oil change on my car, and the shop I brought it to tried to add-on a list of unnecessary services just to hike up my bill. Needless to say, “word of mouth” is likely to discourage my sphere of influence about doing business with this company in the future.

Customer satisfaction programs don’t have to be confusing; rather the basic premise of little things making a huge difference is universal when dealing with consumers. Our job is to make shopping and services easy; we want it to be easy for customers to find us, easy for people to figure out what we sell or do, easy to pay, easy to return products and easy to get answers, but we never can forget the ABC’s of  running a successful business, and that is honesty and integrity. Perhaps the following suggestions might enhance any company’s customer satisfaction experience:

  • Employees have to know that customers are number one. It’s not always about making a profit at that particular time. In the example above, my oil change price was on sale, and an employee wanted to be unscrupulous and tried to sell me something I didn’t need. Was it just for his performance ratings? I don’t know, but that employee cost this company future customers.
  • Don’t argue with customers. Employees have to be cooperative and flexible.
  • Try to have real people answer phone calls, and before a customer service representative answers the phone, ask the employee to smile. We can all tell the attitude of someone on the other end of the line, so why not make it inviting when a customer calls?
  • Have some freebies at your place of business if it involves public participation. There’s always something inviting about a pitcher of lemonade in South Florida or a freshly brewed pot of coffee while customers wait or browse.
  • Make sure that everyone who deals with the public says thank you.
  • Return phone calls within 24 hours, and if you are unable to do that, find someone who can take your place and still do it right.
  • Don’t blame your computer for mistakes or lack of communication. It is far better to apologize and be honest with people; most customers are gracious.
  • Make your products easy to sell.
  • Go the extra mile for a customer. On a recent exchange of a garment I had purchased where the zipper stuck the first time I wore the skirt, the store was gracious enough to replace the garment with another one even though I had made ” a final purchase, no returns please.”
  • Have special or preferred sales for loyal customers and invite them to bring a friend. Here you are rewarding your best customers while nurturing a new relationship with potential new consumers.
  • Use customer service surveys. Don’t make them too general, but hone in on a particular aspect of your business. For instance,  poll customers on their satisfaction rate when receiving shipped merchandise and the correlation to delivery promises.
  • Give money back guarantees.
  • Have reasonable solutions when things go wrong in your business and use the experience to enhance your credibility, honesty and integrity.

photo credit: acearchie

Get more real estate deals with customer service basics

In real estate sales, we depend on technology to help us reach our new customers and clients. The popular online website Realtor.com which is the official site of the National Association of  Realtors is visited by 70% of buyers as their initial effort when shopping for a new home.

As Realtors, we depend on social networks, whether it be Facebook or Twitter to help us create relationships with potential customers. A prospect can send you an email or call you on your cell phone for more specific information about one of your listings. We need it all, but as sales people and sales representatives who want to succeed, we can not keep our heads in our BlackBerry phones. I have observed that getting back to basics is still the backbone of more real estate business. You can’t be texting every place you go, because that keeps you from meeting people and being able to socialize. Real estate is a “see and be seen” profession, and the most successful professionals are consistently visible in their communities.

So now I have my face out of my iPhone, and what do I do? The first thing I do before heading to the supermarket or out to town  is to wear my name tag which identifies me as a Keyes Realtor. Then I get friendly. I talk to people in the supermarket line, I talk to people at the mall when I am shopping, and I talk to people I am involved with in the charitable events I volunteer with at Pure Thoughts Horse & Foal Rescue.

Now here is where the customer service part is integrated into my business. When I meet all of these people, the best thing I can do is give them expert information. Lots of people have real estate licenses, but I need to keep myself set apart from every other licensee. Therefore, I have become an expert in my local market, and when I meet a new prospect and they ask me about a neighborhood in Palm Beach Gardens, I can give them accurate data for my local area, as well as solid information for pricing and figuring out trends to properly offer advice to my customers. I deliver the information on time; I keep my promises, and I am educated in my farm areas. I take classes, read business journals about real estate in my area and keep informed about new programs that will affect the real estate industry. Basically, I deliver service, and that is what customers and soon to be clients expect.

I never spend too much time on technology because that infringes into my people time, and people are my business. This is the time I use to provide people with customer service while building a rapport of knowledge and trust.

photo credit: vicki moore

The paradox of customer service

Does a company have to be the “world’s best” when it comes to customer service? Sometimes striving to be at the pinnacle of greatness is not always necessary and can be way too expensive. Consider the companies that state their customer service representatives will answer the phone within three rings. Will answering the phone on the third ring and spending money on more employees make customer service more effective than hiring less employees and answering the phone perhaps by the tenth ring? Even stretching that one step further; how many times have you called an office and the human receptionist asked you to “please hold” for a few moments? Would it be better customer service if the company hired another receptionist to answer the phone so the “please hold” would never happen? Is that really cost-effective if the phones rarely back up? Many companies don’t use humans anymore, and phone systems now require us to push “one” for Mr. Hughes, push “two” for Ms. Greene, and you know the rest. Meanwhile, we are waiting for a longer period of time than if the receptionist was still answering the phone.

That’s the paradox of customer service. Customers want faster service, more conveniences, better service payment plans, options, return policies, less wait time and all of their problems solved. Have I missed anything? The problem is that what customers expect is different from what they get.

In the case of an airline carrier and an expected flight at an expected time, how often does the airline meet those expectations? We don’t want to wait for the flight since our promised time was already set, but we expect to wait because that is what we have experienced. We’re not happy with in, and when we contact the customer service representative we are angry and ready to explode.

If  perception defines a customer’s expectations which is not compatible with the realities of the company, it is inevitable that the customer’s perception will not be fulfilled. This creates the necessity for a company to have a recovery system. Service failures provide opportunities for companies to create customer loyalty, and provide a chance for higher satisfaction than if the failure never happened. A good recovery can turn frustrated and angry customers into loyal customers just by creating good-will. In the case of the airlines, complimentary upgrades, complimentary food, written apologies, and complimentary flights will not ensure that the next flight is going to be on time, but it surely will calm the savage beasts.

photo credit: Thriving Ink

All about customers

Customers come to your business and buy services or products for different reasons. Some customers are motivated by the lowest prices; others are driven by outstanding customer service or even your reputation. If you get to know your customers and understand their motivations, you can adapt and customize your selling strategies. For instance, the price conscious individual is most likely watching your sale advertisements and will buy your products at that time. The service conscious or reputation centered customer quite obviously demands more time, has more needs and must be cultivated differently.

To cast a general insight into buying habits, let’s examine the typical customer.

– Why does a customer buy from you? A customer will buy a product because it gives them satisfaction; it gives them what they want. This morning I went to Nordstrom’s shoe department; shoes were on sale and obviously what I wanted.

– What does a customer perceive is most valuable about your product or your services? Not only does Nordstrom have a competitively priced shoe sale, the sales staff is attentive, and service is immediate. If the shoes hurt in a day, week, or months from now, I can return them with no questions asked. When you are selling services as for instance, a Realtor, knowledge is power and knowing as much as you can about your product is a delineating factor in quality of service.

– How well is the customer value, products or services provided?

– How do you provide that value so the customer wants to keep coming back? In my Nordstrom shoe department example, the sales are consistently competitive with other stores; the quality of the merchandise is satisfactory, latest styles are offered, and the customer service is always outstanding. When supplying a service as in real estate sales, knowledge of the product and when you don’t know, and admitting you don’t know, but finding the answer will build trust in customers.

– Of all the shopping a customer does for your particular product or service, how much of her business does your company have? In a service company, as in the real estate business, it’s fine to ask your customer how you can get more business from them. Then plan your strategy to accommodate the customer’s needs.

– How do customers and clients see you? You need to present yourself as trustworthy and reliable. Repeat customers spend more, make larger transactions, and refer new customers to you.

– How do customers see you after the sale? You can’t just cash your check and be done with the customer. This is the make it or break it decision for customers, and if you met or exceeded their expectations, you will increase their loyalty and your profit. If your sales efforts failed, all is not lost however, but then it is time to reestablish priorities, techniques and knowledge. Everyone fails at some time or another; don’t let it get you down, but use it as a learning experience to build a better rapport with your customer.

    photo credit: John IFC

    They’re Just Not That Into You

    Love Fireworks :)Have you ever noticed the similarities between attracting a prospective customer and wooing a mate?

    There are lots of similarities when you think about it. For example, before the relationship develops, there may be frequent but informal contact. In business, that may look like a weekly e-newsletter that over time (as trust is established) results in a client project. In a personal relationship, it may take the form of frequent encounters at the corner Starbucks.

    As it blossoms, there is usually lots of attention and care given to the relationship. In business, this is evidenced by asking questions of understanding, attentive listening, clarifying expectations, and responding to needs. In a personal relationship, these behaviors also apply.

    Another similarity is that after the honeymoon phase, personal attention and care tend to diminish. Clients tend to hear from you less often and may need to leave a second message before you respond. And your mate may long for the time when you looked dreamily across the table, a slight smile on your face, while hanging on her every word.

    But today you have competing priorities and don’t feel that you can be as responsive as some customers and mates require. And for this reason, among others, not every story has a happy ending…

    That said, there are actions you can take immediately whether serving a customer or someone with whom you have a bit more of a, shall we say, intimate relationship, that will keep their eyes from wandering to the “competition.”

    • Express genuine interest. With customers, this is accomplished by making eye contact, smiling, and adding enthusiasm to your voice. Also, asking questions about preferences and being responsive to needs signal genuine interest. Chances are, your significant other appreciates the same type of attention.
    • Offer sincere and specific compliments. Genuine compliments make everyone feel better about themselves. A compliment is verbal sunshine. Shine on.
    • Share unique knowledge. In a customer service setting, this means sharing knowledge that goes beyond job knowledge that is expected (e.g., hours of operation, return policy, etc.). Unique knowledge has character and substance. It is interesting, unique, and unexpected (e.g., the history of the location, privileged “insider” information, etc.). Similarly, personal relationships benefit by sharing insights and feelings that transcend the expected (e.g., “How was work?”) and demonstrate personal interest (e.g., “Tell me about your day.”).
    • Convey authentic enthusiasm. We all do this differently. Some are bubbly. Others are less animated but equally enthusiastic. It’s easy to detect whether at work or home. They move with purpose. The lights are on. They are engaged.
    • Use appropriate humor. The key word is appropriate. With customers you need to use discretion and keep it professional so as not to offend. In personal relationships, you have a bit more leeway. Either way, laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
    • Provide pleasant surprises. Have you ever receive an unexpected upgrade on a flight, at a hotel, or when renting a car? How did it make you feel? It’s a positive feeling that can be replicated again and again with something as simple as a card, a bottle of water, or a single rose…
    • Deliver service heroics. This sort of action is rarely required of us. It’s the exception, not the rule. But when the situation requires it and we go “above and beyond” in order to wow our customer (e.g.. meet an overnight deadline) or impress that someone special (e.g., breakfast in bed), it makes a lasting positive impression that reaffirms her importance and reinforces the relationship.

    My hope for everyone reading this post is that you would find some truth in it. Reflect on the quality of your own personal customer service to those people who matter the most to you at work and at home. Are you developing relationships by demonstrating the types of behaviors outlined above or are you communicating indifference by merely going through the motions?

    Be intentional about applying these behaviors and I assure you that your most important customers—both at work and at home—will appreciate you for it and, most importantly, will only have eyes for you.

    Guest Writer Bio: Steve Curtin is a customer service, training, and public speaking enthusiast based in Denver, CO. His website is www.stevecurtin.com.

    photo credit: Beta-J

    Show your customers you appreciate them

    If you want to keep your customers happy, you need to show them how much you appreciate them. While everyone loves the pat on the back and the flattering compliment, you can’t always do that, but there are certainly some innovative techniques available, all of which can help build revenue, keep clients, and attract new ones.

    Every month managers, customer service representatives, and the sales team can meet at lunch to brainstorm new ideas to show customers your sincere appreciation. Planning needs be done well in advance so a financial budget can be established and all plans structured and developed.

    Every month using specific holidays/seasons a new campaign could be introduced. Here are some examples we have used successfully in our real estate office. We are located on a well-traveled part of town with a lot of pedestrian traffic, and during the hottest months of the year we offer cold lemonade. During the winter months, we offer hot apple cider. That brings a lot of traffic into our office, and even if one person is only there to quench his thirst, his companion might be interested in purchasing a home in the near future. At Halloween, we host an afternoon party for children and give away treat bags. We also host informative and educational seminars on short-sales, mortgages, refinancing, and insurance changes. While we are always aiming to show our current customers our appreciation, we are also encouraging new prospects.

    People don’t care how much you spend; they are just impressed that you care. Even inexpensive promotional items like calendars, drink holders, caps, and key chains are appreciated by current customers and a way to invite future clients to check you out.

    In order to find out if the campaigns work however, there has to be a method of evaluation. Customer service representatives can report back on what people say. The sales staff can check how many people have participated and how many prospects have now become customers. The staff can monitor client retention and see if the percentage of clients has stayed constant or increased. Chances are that happy customers remain as clients, bring in referrals, have some fun and ultimately increase revenues.

    photo credit: Patricia Oliveira

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