No matter what the size of your business, customer service is one of the key elements. You can do all the successful sales and marketing to get clients you want, but if you don’t keep them happy, you’re just throwing money in the garbage.
I recently had two experiences with customer service that illustrate my point.
The great experience was with Starbucks. Actually, I had two experiences that simply impressed me to a level I never expected. The first experience involved me being 3 stars short of a free coffee on the same day that 35 stars were about to expire. I planned to buy 2 coffees that day but knew the stars take a while to show up and didn’t want to lose out on my free coffee! With some patience, the cashier figured out how to have me purchase the first coffee and immediately apply the star rewards, so that the second coffee was free.
The second experience was at another Starbucks where I used my account to buy a coffee and sat down. A moment later, the cashier that helped me ran over and breathlessly explained to me that her system had accidentally charged me for someone else’s coffee and I ended up paying 50 cents more than I should have. She wanted to know if I wanted to fix that. I was so impressed with her proactive approach I just let Starbucks have the extra money. 🙂
Lesson: If you impress your customers, they will keep coming back/referring you to other customers. (Note that I am returning to Starbucks and writing this blog post which gives them even more great exposure.) And, great service means excitement to return and pay for your services.
Another experience I had with a 3rd Party seller on Amazon was quite unfortunate. I ordered batteries – how hard is it to get some batteries? Apparently, it’s so hard that instead of sending me the batteries I ordered, I got a book. “Bonjour Tristesse,” in French. It’s so pathetic it’s almost funny. But even more aggravating is that the item was not eligible for return! (Happily, Amazon.com has great service and refunded me the money. And, I speak French, so, hey.)
Lesson: If you don’t do what you said you’d do, you’ll piss off and lose customers. If you don’t provide a way to make good on an order, you’ll inspire your customers to write really bad reviews, and that will hurt your future business potential.
So, whatever the size of your business, here are some tips for providing great customer service, especially geared towards those of you that are solopreneurs or have a small business:
- Check in with your clients frequently. I make a habit of stating, from the very first engagement, that feedback is a critical part of our working relationship. Of course I like to know things are going well, but I really need to know when they are not, otherwise I can’t fix them. So, I find a great habit to create is asking your clients frequently to let you know what’s working well and what they might want to change. It’s great to ask for feedback throughout your relationship and also at the end of your engagement.
- Deliver what you say you will. Be clear on what you can, and especially, what you can not, do. Don’t guarantee services or timeframes you know you can’t deliver on. Instead, talk to your results and if you see a prospect wants a result you can’t fulfill, be open to letting them find another provider, or recommending someone that can help them.
- Deliver more than you say you will. Over delivering is another great way to satisfy clients. I routinely provide extra time for my clients without charging more. You do need to be careful of what expectations you set, but if there is something you can do where your customer feels they are receiving extra support or care from you, it goes a long way in that relationship.
- Own your mistakes and do something about them. One of the make-or-break actions I’ve experienced is how a business owns, or blames, for mistakes. I had a pitiful experience with a wine vendor who completely failed on shipping and stock information. After the matter was resolved, I spoke frankly with a supervisor. Though they offered me a credit towards some free wine, the supervisor was so defensive about how the matter was handled, and annoyed with me for going to his CEO, that I felt like the free bottle was a bribe rather than making good on something. I opted not to work with this vendor again. Mistakes happen, I’ve found a great habit to cultivate if you want to keep a client is looking in to the details of what happened, learning where you might need to change your process, and see if there is a way you can make good on the mistake. That might be providing some extra time, adding on an extra small project, whatever is appropriate for your business, but that little extra might help you maintain and improve an existing client relationship.
- Stay in Touch. I love saying hello to former clients. I genuinely love knowing what they’re up to and where life leads them after our work together. This is a great way to both stay in your client’s mind over time, and create wonderful relationships that could be mutually beneficial.