After you’ve arranged the basics for running your business, like setting up an accounts payable system and getting small business insurance, it’s time to turn your focus to customer service.
By 2020, customer service will become more important than price or product when customers make choices about who gets their business, according to SCORE, a volunteer organization of business professionals helping small business owners. Even today, customer service missteps can cost you revenue, cause you to lose customers, and, in a worst-case scenario, tank a business. Stories of service failures or even perceived slights can spread instantly via viral videos and social media spats viewed by hundreds or even thousands of onlookers.
The most well-known examples typically involve big businesses — recall, for example, that out-of-tune response to a broken guitar that dropped United Airlines’ stock valuation by $180 million. But negative word-of-mouth can hurt small businesses just as badly.
Recently, an upscale new restaurant upset a prominent local guitarist when the chef insisted on preparing the rabbit rare as described on the menu. The diner, who had ordered his meat well done, complained to a manager, who reportedly told him (in less-than-melodious language) to leave. One of the musician’s dining companions took to Facebook to post a scathing review that generated dozens of comments from incensed acquaintances who vowed never to set foot in that restaurant…The following weekend, the place was practically empty.
On the flip side, excellent service can send you rocketing ahead of your competition. For example, you can borrow customer service tips from companies like Zappos, a business that has outrun its competition in part by creating a culture of customer service in which employees are encouraged to go the extra mile — such as sprinting over to another store for a pair of out-of-stock shoes.
“Excellent customer service is simply understanding how someone else wants to be treated, and viewing each person as an individual,” says Nick Bush, a Realtor licensed in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, who picked up his personalized style of service through his previous career in hospitality at five-star hotels.
These high-end hotels often keep files on guests’ quirks, Bush says. “For example, say I’m checking somebody in and they mention they really love Diet Coke,” he says. “I’d put that into the system and have a Diet Coke waiting for them every time they arrive.”
Now, he asks a lot of “how” questions to learn about clients’ needs and plans for their new homes, and he even reflects those preferences in unique post-closing gifts. For example, one woman mentioned she planned to drink coffee and read in a certain room, so he sent a Keurig coffeemaker to her new home.
Providing the best small business customer service doesn’t have to take a lot of time or require you to personally interact with customers all day long, which could quickly lead to burnout.
Instead, good service is a matter of putting systems in place to identify your customer service issues, training yourself and your employees, and harnessing the right tools and services to get the job done.
Providing good small business customer service means doing what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it.
SOURCE: The Hartford SmallBiz Ahead
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