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9 Practical Customer Service Tips

Survey SaysThere’s no one immune from receiving lousy customer service. I cringe at rudeness, robotic phone systems, and general incompetence, but I have learned the business world still marches on, and great customer service does exist. Companies that have figured out exemplary customer service aren’t just about direct business to customer interactions, but instead have made CEOs approachable while creating innovative procedures and actions to benefit customers, and have pulled away from the mediocrity most of us try to avoid. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:

1. A certain amount of automation is enough. There always has to be a way to opt out of the robotic phone answering systems. Aren’t there days when we just need to speak with a human?
2. Be prompt answering me when I have a problem with your company. Email is very convenient, but if I am annoyed by a product or service, I really want an answer before 24 hours. That’s why I have to use the phone, but if I get caught up in a robotic system with no way out, I get even more frustrated.
3. I am the customer, and you keep the records because I pay you. When I call with a question about a product that you know I already own or a service you provide, I don’t want to have to remember passwords. I forget them as quickly as I create them. I expect you to know the identification number on the equipment I lease from you. Why do I have to climb around dark cabinets to repeat it? You should have my customer account number already.
4. Work with me, and develop my trust. If you want me to spend a lot of money, I need to have fostered a relationship with you first. For instance, buying a home is the most expensive purchase I will ever make, and it’s not just about writing a contract to buy a home. I want all the information you can show me to make me feel this is the right decision to make. For instance, tell me about the schools in the area, tell me about taxes and industry in the area; tell me everything about this new community I need to know.
5. Be enthusiastic about your product. I want you to make me feel you believe in the product or your company, and you’re just not answering the phone or talking to me because you are just treading water waiting for payday.
6. Provide guidance and assistance for me when I ask you, but don’t hover over me. I find salespeople following me around in a store to be really annoying, especially if I tell them up front that I am just browsing. If I need help, then I want to know someone is nearby. It’s a fine line, but I think sales people should know the difference.
7. Sometimes I need online support. I really appreciate when I can find a telephone number predominantly displayed on a website. When I purchase a product or service online, and the phone number is convenient, it makes me think the company is completely transparent, and they want me to call if I have a question or problem.
8. Train your employees to be part of the company culture. I know it costs more money to train employees, but when I see employees living the philosophy of great customer service as if they were born with the talent, I am inspired and grateful to be doing business with such a stellar company.
9. Be aware of your competition, and ask my opinion. If your competition does it better, maybe it’s time for a change. Ask your customers how you can deliver a better product, be more innovative, or provide better service. We know because your competition is knocking at our doors every day.

    I want to be loyal to you if you deliver innovative products at competitive prices and deliver services to me with respect and proficiency.

    photo credit: Orin Zebest

    Customer retention strategies to boost your business

    Hair Stylists and Makeup ArtistsMaking that first impression in business with the appearance of your web site, the decor, the marketing, or just the friendliness of the first company representative a customer encounters, helps to brand your business. You don’t always have to be faster or cheaper to keep your customers from straying off to the competition, but you need to maintain a consistent brand of professionalism, speed, and convenience.

    Customers may leave because they don’t like your product, their friends have influenced them to move to another company, or the competition simply has you beat, but according to statistics, most customers leave because of a change in attitude or indifference by the business. Customers always have to think you care, and customers want you to make them feel good.

    Using the time-honored tenet of it being easier to keep an old customer than to find a new one, companies need to concentrate on customer user groups, periodic surveys, social networking, blogging, and above all – customer service. When you have hired the right people, and your employees know how to make customers feel important, customers keep coming back.

    For instance, the hairdresser at the salon I have used for years recently relocated to another state. As most of you know, a woman’s hairdresser is really important, and never to be taken lightly. And, so after my hairdresser left, the owner of the salon called me, and asked me what she could do for me to help meet my needs. I was a bit elusive at the beginning since I didn’t feel as if the owner had been paying attention, but within a few days the owner called me, continued to stay in contact, offered suggestions, and made me feel as if I was a very important client. I was able to openly discuss some reservations I had about changing products and stylist, but she was informative, honest, and won my confidence back.

    Customer retention strategies are an ongoing process. Concentrate on the most important elements:

    • Hire the right people who have the right attitude. Are they friendly? Do they thank you?
    • Do what you promise. Customers remember, and customers leave if you disappoint them by not delivering what you promise.
    • Pay attention to your customers, and what is going on around you in your business.
    • Help the customer even though it might not mean a sale at that particular time. Go beyond your own needs.
    • Handle complaints in a mature manner. Admit when something has gone wrong, and correct your mistake. Always apologize to the customer.
    • Stay in contact with the customer, and know their needs.

    If you keep a database of addresses and email lists, send your customers birthday cards, promotions, and current interesting information. You want to stay in their minds, but never make it seem as if you are being a pest.

    photo credit: Art Pets Photography

    Building customer service for your eBay business

    StirrupMy friend Linda is a power-seller of long-standing on eBay. For years she has been getting up on Saturday mornings at 5:00 AM to scour local garage sales for equine clothing, bridles, halters, and saddles. She purchases the gear, cleans it up, repairs it, and sells it on eBay. She has reached gold-level power-seller status and prides herself on great customer service. She has hundreds and hundreds of positive feed backs. I thought I would offer some of her advice, observations and suggestions for the entrepreneurial online eBay sellers, and at the same time show how excellent customer service continues to have a positive impact on our lives.

    If you have decided to sell something on eBay, research your item thoroughly. Let “Google” become your friend, and use the search engines to capture more information about the items you are selling. The more specific the headlines and description of your items, the more attention you will get. It’s also a good idea to look at what your competition is selling and how your similar items are priced, and marketed.

    Take pictures with a digital camera, and take the photos from all angles. This will give bidders a good idea of the condition of your merchandise. Many sellers use a third-party hosting site to display additional pictures to save money. You can place the link on your description.

    Make sure you monitor your emails. Potential buyers often have a lot of questions. Seasoned sellers commonly create a FAQ which gives buyers information about policies. For instance, be clear about delivery charges, possible problems, refunds, and procedures. Confirm by email when a buyer has won the bid, and at the same time add the payment terms, and the postage charge information so there can be no confusion. Some sellers send out all items first class so it can be easily tracked, but make sure to specify if the buyer has the choice.  Thank every customer for their payment, and confirm when an item is shipped and instructions on how to contact you with any problems.

    Take customer service even further by professionally wrapping any items you are sending out. It gives a buyer a good impression when you use the right sized boxes and the safest packing material to ensure the merchandise arrives in pristine condition. Don’t forget to include an invoice which should include the picture of the sold item.

    Follow up on your sale in a few days. Excellent customer service reduces complaints. Let your customers make suggestions for the future which will reduce bad feedback that definitely can affect your eBay reputation.

    photo credit: BinaryApe

    Will customers pay extra for superior customer service?

    According to BIGresearch, a Ohio based online market researcher, customers will pay for good service ahead of price if given the chance. Superior customer service attracts and keeps customers, and can actually be the impetus behind a consumer driving farther for a product if the company makes it worth their while.

    So how many customer service faux pas’ can you make before a customer drives off to your competition? Think of it as a baseball game – three strikes and you’re out. According to their online survey, 17% will leave you after a single service mess up; 40% will leave you after two blunders and 28% will leave after the third mistake. That adds up to an overwhelming 85% of your business for poor customer service.

    Customers want knowledgeable assistance when they want it, and they place a high value on accurate information. Some  of the most annoying comments ever uttered by a sales representative are, “It’s not my job,” or “If we had it, it would be out here on display.” Consumers want to be served by employees who know their product, and in the circumstance when a product is no longer available, the customer representative will have a solution and know where to find the product or one to replace it.

    Consumers want to deal with friendly  and courteous people. An “I don’t know” response from a sales person doesn’t instill product knowledge nor does it hint at respect.

    As to the price factor, consumers are looking for good value, so if your prices are completely out of the range of reasonable as compared to your competition, great customer service is still not going to motivate people to pay a lot more for the same product, but in the word ” value” is the chance for service. The follow-up and the method you service your customers will make the profound difference. Unhappy consumers don’t want to hear, “we’re doing our best.” They want their problem solved, and they want you to solve it.

    Your customers want convenience when they shop, and they want you to make everything organized, attractive and easy to find what they need. No one wants to hear “I’ll have to check if we have it.” The knowledgeable sales representative knows their inventory, knows where everything is located and can immediately direct the customer to the product they are seeking to purchase.

    And when it is time for the customer to check out, make sure the check out lines are well-tended and a customer doesn’t have to wait long. How many times have you had to wait what seems like forever to check out the product; you just want to pay for it and leave. Hopefully with the great customer service you just received, you’ll come back!

    photo credit: leozaza

    More customer service thank you notes

    Sending out thank you notes for either services or products give a company another chance to contact the customer. Any company that has spent time and money getting those customers, certainly wants to retain them, and the thank you notes are great ways to build solid relationships.

    Whenever writing thank you notes, be sure to be specific with your topic and never make it a sales pitch. Don’t thank customers as a group; this is your time to make it personal and win that person’s loyalty for the future. Make sure the note is well-timed, well-written and mailed immediately. If your handwriting is legible, a hand written note is very impressive to receive.

    Here are a few examples of thank you notes; one is for providing a service, and the other note is a thank you for purchasing a product. The notes are fairly simple; they are inexpensive and effective ways to provide the best of customer service.

    The first short thank you note is for a service you provided. Remember the note does not have to be long; in fact a short but sincere thank you is most desirable.

    Dear Mr. & Mrs. Jones,

    We truly appreciate your business and are grateful for the trust you have placed in _______________. We were privileged to have the opportunity to serve you by _____________________________, and we greatly value your business.

    We look forward to continuing our relationship with you in the future, and should you have any suggestions how we can serve you better, please do not hesitate to drop us a note or call. Our commitment to providing you the best _________________is our primary goal.

    Very truly yours,

    The second short thank you is for a product a customer has recently purchased.

    Dear Mr. & Mrs. Jones,

    Thank you for choosing __________________________. Our  continued commitment lies in the complete satisfaction of each and every product we sell. Should you have a need for another ______________ please do not hesitate to call us again.

    Our success lies in our prompt, professional and personal attention we strive to give.  Should you have any suggestions that would improve our business, please feel free to contact us.

    Sincerely,

    It is not inappropriate to ask for referrals as long as you don’t give the impression you are trying to sell something or attempting to use the thank you note as a sales pitch, but if customers or clients are very happy with your products and services, go right ahead. See more sample thank you notes here.

    photo credit: Patrick Hoesly

    Customer appreciation demonstrated by thank you notes

    This morning was the closing  of one of my real estate properties that had been listed for nearly a year before it finally sold. At the time I listed the property, the market had been soft, but the competing active listings in the area were still priced relatively high, and the property owners insisted we start higher and slowly bring the price down to where I thought the home would sell. Needless to say, the home market had continued to drop, and it took a long time with many disappointments until we successfully closed the sale.

    Everyone wants to be appreciated, and homeowners – both buyers and sellers are no exception. In real estate, repeat customers are our livelihood, not only because they provide us continued business through their loyalty, but we gain referrals and new customers through this very important avenue.

    When I earned my real estate license and ordered my first 1000 business cards, I also ordered my first box of business stationery which included quality note cards that I could use for prospecting, sending invitations to special events of interest to customers I work with, and for writing thank you notes. After my trip to the bank to deposit my commission check this morning, I came home and wrote out my thank you notes.

    Some of my colleagues send thank you notes by email, but I prefer to write them by hand. I think my customers and clients appreciate the effort when they know I have taken my personal time to write to them, and I always address the envelopes myself. I have a private supply of fun postage stamps – most of my clients know that I am a consummate animal lover, and my stamps are always about animals. I include only one business card in thank-you notes; I never want it to seem as if it is a sales pitch hidden by an insincere thank you.

    So what do I write? Usually I get to know my customers quite well because of the time I spend with them during the selling process of a home, and I address them informally. I normally start my message with, ” It’s been my pleasure…”  I always thank them for their kindness, and I express my gratitude for allowing me to help them. I never forget to tell them how they have helped me to succeed and with that, I praise them for their loyalty and patience. At the end of my note I ask them for referrals.

    Just from my own experience, I have yet to ever find a person who did not appreciate receiving nice mail.

    photo credit: Creations by Ro

    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

    Those emails count in customer service

    Emails can be an important part of business. When customers are looking for information about a company, many will now utilize the convenience of emails since many cell  phones are even equipped with the applications. It can be a great opportunity for a business owner to cultivate new clients, keep current customers interested, and promote the personal touch if needed in particular situations.

    I volunteer for a horse rescue whenever I have time, and even though the rescue is an all volunteer organization dedicated to saving and rescuing horses, it is a business; that is to say the horse rescue must run as a business regardless of it being a 501(c)3 non-profit while it is trying to help horses find safe homes. The owners of the rescue are very active, and this rescue is one of the largest operating in the eastern part of the US. Every week the owners of the rescue  travel to nearby auctions and broker barns, list horses,  display their photos and brief videos of the horses’ abilities on a website and use the internet to provide a wider venue other than local auctions for these horses to find homes. The web site attracts thousands of unique visitors every month, and with that the amount of emails are overwhelming. So how does a business effectively handle emails and provide efficient and polite customer service?

    Here are a few suggestions I have learned:

    • Use the 24 to 48 hours rule. Answer emails in a timely manner because people no longer have the patience to wait. It isn’t like the “old days” of snail mail; now it is assumed that the email is received immediately, and an answer is expected immediately. In order not to be overwhelmed if there are numerous emails, divide the time on the computer into two or more sessions.
    • Use a filter on your computer. You can eliminate much of the spam. You can also separate sales pitches, entertainment (jokes from your friends) and business which will make you immediately more efficient.
    • Work on some standard replies. We know that many answers  to customer or client questions are readily available on your website, so having some stock answers can relieve you from answering the same inquiries over and over.
    • Act professional. Some people are just not nice, but it can not and should not break you down or make you answer an email in an unprofessional manner. If an email angers you, step away from the computer, relax or take a walk. Then come back, think about your reply and stay cool. Use the delete button if the email is inappropriate.
    • Inform people if you are unable to answer you emails on time. In the case of the horse rescue, if there is an emergency with a horse, ( as sometimes happens) it is difficult to reply to emails. In this particular case, the rescue runs a social and educational internet group. She is then able to notify readers and members that she is unable to answer within 24 to 48 hours.
    • Use other qualified people to help answer all emails. The horse rescue will use volunteers to help answer emails in order to keep everyone notified and answer questions. In other businesses, hire someone knowledgeable to help. It pays.

    Answering emails and staying in touch with customers builds loyalty. Never let your customers hang; rest assured that someone else will be there to save them.

    photo credit: megwillis

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