bulll-briefcaseBad customer service discussions are spreading faster than head lice at summer camp.  I’m amazed at how many different peers I have that are either experiencing HORRIBLE customer service, or hearing from their peers about the worst customer service they’ve ever seen.  Perhaps it’s because I just read “It’s Called Work For a Reason” by Larry Winget (a great read!) but I have really seen a lot of bad service.

The thing is, we tend to think only of corporations when it comes to customer service.  As if “customer service” and “Corporate” go hand-in-hand.  But, we small business owners are every bit as responsible for pleasing our customers as are corporations.  In fact, you’d think it would be easier for a small business to take great care of its customers.  But, somehow, there seems to be a trend going around where money and growth/expansion are trumping customer care, and it’s time to bust the customer service bull.

"Customer Service Surveys" by Team Members on Flickr Commons

“Customer Service Surveys” by Team Members on Flickr Commons

Here are some of the bad customer service actions I’ve been hearing about/experiencing as of late, and, if you think this could be you, some ideas for you to fix it:

The Bull 3You’re expanding, hiring new people, and trying to manage unprecedented demand for your service.  Yay!  Good for you!  But, wow, your customer service sucks.  Your existing customers are feeling how busy you are, and they don’t feel nurtured.  Your prospects feel entirely forgotten about, not cared for, and your resulting funnel is becoming full of dead flies because you are completely ignoring them.

Or, you have a thriving business, and lots of different levels to help people get the help they need, and so you’ve decided that your lowest tier customers are less important than your higher tier customers.

The BustHow to fix your customer service:

Set expectations.  You need to be really clear in your own head about what you expect from every employee.  Then, you have to tell every single employee what those expectations are.  Write them down, have everyone read your expectations.  Talk about them, ask what people have understood their role is, make sure you all agree.  Also, let your customers know what’s going on – if you expect a busy period, get on the phone, talk to them, figure out the best way for you to be in communication while you sort this out, and consider some sort of bonus gift/offering to make up for the glitch you are expecting.  Leave the door open to complaints, take them on, and figure out how to satisfy your customers.  In fact, before you deal with your internal issues, I’d personally reach out to every one of your customers, which, as a small business owner, should be something you can do within a week.  They helped you get to the point you need to expand, so thank them.  Customers tend to be a lot more patient when they hear from you, than when they don’t.

Set check-points.  Especially when a new employee starts, establish ways to check in, regularly (daily or weekly) as to their progress.  Figure out a way to see results of their actions, so you have a visible and tangible trail that lets you know if they did their work the way you expected or not.  Show them where the weak points are, fix it quick, and try again.  The same goes with your customers – show them you value their loyalty and their business by checking in regularly to see how their experience has been.  Take notes, and actually fix the problems, and stay in touch around them.

bad service

“Customer Services” By Gordon Ednle on Flickr Commons

Your prospects matter, too.  I think this is just the most appalling of all.  While you are so busy being busy, you are making it really hard for those of us trying to learn more about you to do so.  I won’t name names, but I actually tried really hard to get to know a business that was highly recommended to me.  Last November, I sent them a Facebook message.  I also tried to sign up for their newsletter.  Dead silence.  A month later, I got a reply to my Facebook message, with due apology.  I replied, silence.  Everyone kept telling me how great this place was, so I even emailed.  Finally, after multiple tries, I got on their mailing list, and got a ticket to their January event with a discount!  Yipppee!  Then it got canceled, boo.  They moved me into something else, yippeee!  Then that got canceled, too.  Boo.  Then they told me they were excited I was coming to an event 2 months later that I was not registered for, at which point I just got pissed off.  You know what I did NOT get, after 6 months of putting up with this horrible customer service?  A phone call.  If you know you’ve been falling down with your prospects, pick up the damn phone and call us.   Beg us for our business, apologize, figure out how to make good on our business, because when your pipeline dies, you are tripling the work you have to do after you sort out your internal systems.

The same goes for referrals – if you don’t have time to reach out to them, then be up front when someone connects you.  If you are open to referrals, then show them how valuable they are to you from the beginning.  If you take one of our valued clients, and treat them with less value, it’s embarrassing to us, and means we will be less likely to refer business your way again.  When you have poor follow-up with our clients, we worry that it reflects poorly on us, and damages our credibility in referral sources.  Don’t make this mistake – it’s bad for everyone’s business.

"Customer Service Essentials" by Eurobase Fullfillment on Flickr Commons

“Customer Service Essentials” by Eurobase Fullfillment on Flickr Commons

It’s easier to renew existing business than get new business.  No matter what level your customers are with you, they all came to you because they felt you had something valuable to offer them.  Sure, if they are paying less, they can’t expect the same level of value that higher-paying customers get.  But, they can expect to feel valued, and not be simply made to feel that the only way that will happen is if they spend more money with you.  Train your associates to treat every caller with the same level of respect.

Handle complaints with integrity.  No matter what you do, it’s likely that some people are going to complain.  Complaints don’t always feel good, and it’s really easy to get defensive, emotional and upset by them.  Do your best to breathe through them, remember that we are all different people, and listen.  Find out what’s really bothering a customer or a prospect, and see if you can come to a point of resolution.  Sometimes, we just don’t mesh with people, that’s ok.  There is no need for you to change who you are or your personal style, or your personality, just because someone does not like any of the above.  Take their criticism in stride – learn whatever lessons you can from the feedback, let go of what doesn’t resonate, and then move on without trashing one another in public forum.   None of us is a fit for EVERYbody, but where we can be of service, and value, it serves all of us to apologize if we step outside of normal excellent behavior, acknowledge disappointments, and do our best to part ways with compassion.  And, sometimes, when you behave compassionately, you can completely turn a bad service anomaly into a great customer.

What’s your experience with customer service, and what tips would you add?

 

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