In today's world, consumers and businesses have many options as to where they can buy a particular product or service. While things such as product quality and price are important in their decision making process, customer service is often the most important.
The products my company offers are similar to those offered by our competitors at comparable prices. So how do we set ourselves apart from them? The answer is simple, customer service. What's not so simple is how a company creates a culture that ensures excellent customer service on a daily basis.
There are several ways to foster excellent customer service.
1. Customer Service starts at the top. When it is the priority of ownership and senior management, excellent customer service becomes a part of everyday business. Make it part of your mission statement. Think about your customers when hiring your employees. Consider if that person has the qualities necessary to give excellent customer service, such as personality and character. Make customer service an integral part of your employee training program and company policies. Empower your employees with the knowledge and authority to make the quick decisions that are sometimes necessary to ensure customer satisfaction.
2. Communication is key. To provide great customer service, you have to be accessible. Customers don't want voicemails or automated telephone systems. They want to speak to a friendly, real person who can either answer their questions or put them in touch with someone who can. Make sure your customers know how to reach you and help them identify the person or department that can best assist them with a particular question or issue. It's amazing how many companies forget this simple, yet important piece of great customer service.
3. Customers want it now. In today's culture of instant gratification, customers want their products and services yesterday, not today or tomorrow. At my company, we always remind our employees, “The most important customer is the one who is in need of service right now.” We tell them, “When a customer is in need, when their equipment is not working, or they are low on product, that is your time to shine.” Also, if there is something beyond your control that is preventing you from a quick response, let the customer know why and when you will be able to respond.
4. Honesty is the best policy. Be honest with your customers. If they have a request that you cannot accommodate, such as a particular product or service that you don't have, tell them you cannot help them and the reason. If you have an alternate solution to their request that you can accommodate, suggest it to them. Don't ever promise something that you can't deliver. Remember the adage, “Under promise and over deliver.”
5. Be a consultant, not a salesperson. One of the reasons your clients chose you is for your knowledge and expertise on your product or service. They don't want is someone pushing a new product, service or extra fee on them when they are not ready. Great customer service companies are always available to help solve their problems, answer their questions and add value to their lives. If you think like a consultant rather than a salesperson, you will be much more successful in keeping them satisfied.
6. Get to know your customers. At my company, we insist that our delivery and service employees make sure their customers know their names. When our customers get to know them on a first name basis, rather than just “the coffee guy,” we become much more valuable to them. Take the time to get to know your customers. What are their interests, their hobbies, their favorite sports teams? Just make sure it's not too personal. Your customers will be much more loyal to your company when they know your customer service staff for who they are rather than simply for the job they do.
Customer service is an important part of every successful business. It's what makes us stand apart from our competition. It drives repeat business and helps us acquire new customers through referrals and word of mouth. Customer service creates customer satisfaction. When you think about that, it really is all about the service.
Brian Long is CEO of Aroma Coffee Services, which provides coffee and other supplies to offices from Polk to Collier counties.
CEO Corner is a quarterly column written by members of the Gulf Coast CEO Forum.
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