I deal often with early-stage startups, and many of these don’t have any customers yet (but wish they did), so it’s not surprising they still don’t think of customers as their friends. More disturbingly, others do have customers, but the customer service program consists of an informal focus on “problems,” rather than a proactive effort to establish a positive relationship with friends.
The right time to put a formal customer service program in place, with measurements, is before the first sale of your product or service to a customer. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and customer satisfaction these days is one the most critical success factors to every business.
A while back I saw a great article titled “12 Lessons From The Best Customer Service Companies”. They summarized some practical lessons that I recommend from companies with the best customer service around – both what to do, and what not to do:
- Keep it personal. Yes, a certain amount of automation is necessary for efficiency, but customers should never feel like they are at the mercy of machines when all they really want is to talk to a human being.
- Don’t make the customer work. Many companies build friction into their support systems by forcing customer to remember arcane account or customer numbers, e-mail addresses and passwords, before being helped.
- Foster relationships. When it comes to major, life-changing purchases, simply answering a customer’s questions is not enough. To close large sales, a firm’s customer service staff needs to build and foster relationships with customers.
- Go above & beyond. No small amount of customer frustration comes from the perception that companies are doing the bare minimum to satisfy them. Actions clearly above and beyond make the customer feel completely taken care of.
- Be enthusiastic. Another way to show customers that they’re in good hands is to be really, truly, palpably enthusiastic about your products. Customers like to believe that businesses believe in the virtues of their offerings on a level transcending profit.
- Be helpful without being annoying. The overzealous floor clerk might think he’s helping by following you from aisle to aisle, but in truth, he is actually getting in the way. The challenge is to assist customers without stepping on their toes.
- Even online retailers need phone support. A mistake of online retailers is to assume “since we’re online, we don’t need a support number.” Web retailers typically direct all questions to a form that most people assume will never get answered by anyone.
- Unabashedly seek to out-serve competitors. Deliberately and un-apologetically striving to out-serve your competitors. Take stock of how the other companies in your industry interact with customers and seek out specific ways to do a better job of it.
- Be prompt. The reason so many people prefer phone support to online is not that online support is inherently awful, but it’s often treated as less urgent. Let’s be frank – who really expects to hear back from “[email protected]” anytime soon?
- Train rank & file employees in your customer service specifics. Great customer service is not commanded down from the top by written edicts and policies. Every company known for outstanding service has made a conscious decision to train its rank and file employees in how to properly assist their customers.
- Always innovate. Contrary to some assumptions, customer service isn’t all about direct business-to-customer interactions. Even the most courteous and professional staff can’t rescue a stagnant company selling the “same old same old” year after year.
- Create a desire to belong. Finally, among the most powerful customer service techniques is creating a desire to belong. Customers with a desire to belong are fiercely loyal and provide positive testimonials and word-of-mouth advertising money can’t buy.
Customer service, like any aspect of business, is a practiced art that takes time and effort to master. Treat your customers like your friends, be ready to show them a little extra love, and your business will always be remembered as the best.