• Customers Rule: How Delivering Dazzling Customer Service Can Grow Your Business

    Though I wrote this post, it is sponsored by Visa Business (details below). We appreciate Visa’s commitment to supporting the small business community!

    Before I became an entrepreneur in 2003, I spent more than a decade working in various Silicon Valley jobs. Back then software companies spent big money on training programs for their employees, and I distinctly remember attending several customer service courses where we were reminded of the old adage: “the customer is always right.” Those early lessons have served me well in my entrepreneurial life, and have helped me earn loyal clients and build a thriving business.

    Customer service is a hot topic in the large company arena, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not always a top priority in the small business community. Many business owners are too busy drumming up revenue and getting through the day-to-day operations to focus much on customer service policies. But this is a dangerous topic to ignore because customer service can make or break your business.

    Years ago when I refinanced my mortgage, the company I worked with did something extraordinary. At the end of the year, just before I needed to round up documents for tax season, they sent me an extra copy of my loan paperwork. The enclosed note said they wanted to simplify things for their customers at tax time and save us time searching for documents. That’s the kind of gesture that people appreciate and remember.

    Just last week I hired a freelancer to handle a job that took the previous freelancer more than two weeks to complete. The first freelancer experienced several delays, didn’t communicate well, and left me feeling a bit uneasy. The new freelancer turned the project around in four days, communicated with me each day, and clearly cared about delivering a quality result. Guess which one I’ll be hiring again?

    Not long ago I referred one of my clients to a service provider I had worked with briefly. My experience was fine (though not exceptional), and my client’s experience was horrible. He had numerous problems with his project, and I received several grumpy emails about the challenges he experienced. Because of that, I’ll never refer that service provider again, and neither will my client. Poor customer service can kill your reputation.

    When you make customer service a priority in your business, you cultivate happy clients. Happy clients come back for more and they tell their friends. Unhappy clients run in the other direction and also tell their friends. It should always be a top priority to deliver exceptional service.

    Here’s how to dazzle your customers:

    1. Deliver on Your Promises – This seems so simple, but it’s often ignored, especially in the service provider community. If you commit to delivering something within a week, meet that commitment. Delays happen periodically, but don’t make it a habit.

    2. Make Communication a Priority – Give customers a way to get in touch with you or your team quickly. Publish a phone number on your website (it is astounding to me that not all businesses do this), and provide an email address. Respond promptly, and notify customers of any possible delays in delivery. They will understand as long as you are open, honest, and responsive.

    3. Exceed Expectations – This is a big one and if you can do it, you will reap many rewards. Amazon.com won customers over early on when they introduced speedy order delivery, a commitment they continue to improve upon. What can you do to set yourself apart from competitors and thrill your clients?

    4. Create a Personal Experience – One big advantage that small businesses have over their big business competitors is the ability to deliver a personalized experience. Your competitors may have big call centers with impersonal service, while you may have to return calls one by one. This is fine, and actually an advantage to you, provided you are efficient and make the customer feel like a top priority. Plus, you can share far more industry knowledge with a customer than they would get from speaking with a random person in a call center.

    5. Take Ownership of Problems – You can’t avoid problems in business; they will inevitably surface. But if your company makes a mistake, take responsibility and fix it quickly. Placing blame elsewhere—or back on the client—will bite you in the end. You can actually become a hero in the client’s eyes if you address a problem swiftly, apologize humbly, and do whatever it takes to make it right.

    6. Monitor Your Online Reputation – If you don’t already have Google Alerts created for your business name and website address, go create these now. You will receive emails notifying you when your business is mentioned online. Also monitor reviews on sites like Yelp and mentions of your business name or website on Twitter. Respond to all commentary, good or bad. Let people know you’re paying attention and that you care about making things right, or that you appreciate compliments.

    7. Ask for Feedback – Surveys are a great way to gauge customer satisfaction. You can create a custom survey through SurveyMonkey.com and send it to customers after completing transactions with them. Watch for trends in their responses and address any areas of weakness that you identify.

    8. Spread Love to Top Clients – Make a list of your top ten or 20 clients and do something special for them. You might host a client appreciation party, give them tickets to a local event, or send an unexpected gift during a holiday. I know an owner of a cleaning company who personally visits his top clients just before Mother’s Day and delivers small gifts like flowers and chocolate. There is no question that this breeds loyalty.

    9. Build Personal Relationships – During my time in the Silicon Valley, I spent several years in software sales (with a $4 million annual quota!). One of the main reasons I was successful was that I built personal relationships with my clients. I let my natural human curiosity lead the way and asked about their weekend plans, their kids, and their spouses. These small gestures led to many relationships that I still maintain a decade later.

    10. Keep in Touch – After your work with a client is complete, find a way to keep in touch. You might send a periodic email, a birthday card or handwritten note. If you have a large client list, postcards can be another way to reach out to your customer base (though not as personal). You can expect great results any time you can add a personal touch, but as long as you continue to reach out to your customers, exceed their expectations, and deliver great service, your business will flourish.

    Customer Service Infographic by Visa Business

    I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

    Filed Under: Retail BusinessSmall Business

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    About the Author: Stephanie Chandler is an author of nine books including Own Your Niche: Hype-Free Internet Marketing Tactics to Establish Authority in Your Field and Promote Your Service-Based Business and The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan: Simple Strategies to Build Your Audience and Sell More Books. She is also founder and CEO of Authority Publishing, specializing in custom book publishing and social media marketing services, BusinessInfoGuide.com, a directory of resources for entrepreneurs, and the Nonfiction Authors Association, a marketing community for authors. She has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, BusinessWeek, Inc.com, and Wired magazine, and she is a contributing blogger for Forbes. For author and speaker details, visit http://StephanieChandler.com. Subscribe to Stephanie Chandler's blog feed here.

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    1. PaulNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Stephanie, customer service is one aspect where you must not take any chances. People hop from one brand to the other in search of a reliable service provider, the day they get it they stick to it.

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