Business is all about the customer, and the big money isn't found as much in winning customers as it is in keeping them. Each customer's perception of your company plays a role in determining your success and you'll leave out the most important component—the individual customer—if you put all your focus on the merchandise and services your corporation offers.
Show customers you're keeping them in mind—and increase loyalty—with these best practices:
1. Keep employees happy.
The quality of customer service can't exceed the quality of the people who provide it. If you think you can get by with paying your customer service employees the lowest wage, giving few benefits and providing the least training for your employees, it will show. Keep up employee morale and make sure they feel appreciated. Companies don't help customers—people do.
2. Set an example.
Consistently rude service is a reflection on management as much as it is on the employee. Your staff takes its behavior cues from management. Do you greet your employees enthusiastically each day? Are you polite in your dealings with them? Do you try to accommodate their requests and listen to them when they speak? Your people will treat your customers the way they are treated.
3. Know the customer.
Recognizing someone and calling them by name is a simple way to make customers feel important—and it lets them know you value them as customers. Do you know who your customers are? If a regular customer came in to your business, would you recognize them? Keep rapport with both long-time and new customers and make sure to keep a record of their business dealings so you can recall details when necessary.
4. Be publicly present.
A visible management is an asset to any company. Customers feel more connected to your products and services if they have knowledge of a name and a face. For example, the Piccadilly Cafeteria chain posts the pictures of the manager and assistant manager on a wall and it is a policy that the manager's office is in full view of the customers with the door kept open. Stay within reach of your customers and make sure to respond in a timely manner to their inquiries, comments, and messages.
5. Go the extra mile.
Keep in touch with your customers—and show appreciation—by doing a little extra. Include a signed thank-you note in a customer's package, send a birthday card or write a congratulatory note when a big client gets a promotion. There are all sorts of ways for you to build your relationship with your customers bring them closer to you.
6. Create a welcoming atmosphere.
Your customers deserve to be acknowledged, so make sure they are greeted when they walk in the door—or at least within 30-40 seconds upon entering. This simple but important gesture is a matter of respect and tells customers that you welcome their visit.
7. The customer is always right.
Always give customers the benefit of the doubt if it doesn't impact the quality of service you offer. Proving to him why he's wrong and you're right isn't worth losing a customer over. You will never win an argument with a customer, and you should never put a customer in that position.
8. Be accommodating.
Each customer is an individual, and, as such, will have different needs. If a customer makes a request for something special, do everything you can to say yes. The fact that a customer cared enough to ask is all you need to know in trying to accommodate her. It may be an exception from your policy, but (if it isn't illegal) try to do it. Even if you can't deliver, she'll have greater loyalty for your company because you took the time to try.
9. Train and test employees periodically.
Make sure your associates are properly trained in handling customer complaints. Give them guidelines for what to say and do in every conceivable case. Also provide opportunities to refresh training and periodically evaluate performance to make sure employees' skills are at their best. The people on the frontline of a situation represent the company and play the most critical role in your customer's experience. Equip them to ensure that that experience is always a positive one.
10. Be open to feedback.
Ask you customers what they think of your company. Compose a "How Are We Doing?" card and leave it at the exit or register stand, or include it in their next statement. Keep it short and simple. Ask what they like, what they don't like, what they would change, what you could do better and about their latest experience. Have it pre-stamped for the customer to mail it in, and acknowledge receipt of the card if the customer includes his contact information.
Liz Tahir is an international marketing consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, whose mission is to help companies be more effective and profitable. Based in New Orleans, she can be contacted at (504) 569-1670; at firstname.lastname@example.org; or at http://www.liztahir.com.