Customer Service: A second look at first impressions

Customer service should be part of every job, no matter what the official title. When you consider the cost of acquiring a new customer versus the cost of keeping a current one (four to eight times as expensive to acquire, depending on your industry) it’s just smart business. To get on track, here’s a “second look at first impressions,” and four other ideas for delivering a great customer experience.

First Impressions

What happens when a client or prospect phones your company? Are callers immediately shuttled to a phone tree or voice mail system? That’s not always bad – it’s sort of expected – but how long before they can speak to a real human being? If wait times are more than a minute, consider a virtual queue or virtual hold service that lets customers hang up and then receive a return call without losing their place in line.

Talk to your people in sales, customer service and other departments that have regular phone contact with your client base. Are your people – and your company – getting off on the right foot with potential customers? Are callers getting their questions answered and problems addressed in a satisfactory manner?

And what about the very first sale or order? Is it a memorable or at least pleasant experience? Make it one! You will never have that first chance again. Have your people think about it this way: After the sale is when the really hard part starts. Apple, Mercedes-Benz and Harley-Davidson have almost turned the delivery of a customer order into a major life event. You don’t have to compete at that level, but take extra time to make sure the first sale goes as smoothly as possible and, if possible, exceeds the client’s expectations. Every sale after that will be easier, and your stellar performance should buy you some goodwill, in case you hit a glitch with another order down the road.

Stand Out from the Crowd

Is there something your company does – or could do – that your competitors don’t, and that would present a clear advantage of doing business with you?

Think about the kind of built-in advantages your company. Are there options or throw-ins you can provide at little or no expense, but that would be noticed an appreciated by the customer? These could include:

  • Free delivery on the first order
  • On-site training
  • 24-hour customer service number
  • No-charge maintenance or service calls for the first year
  • No-interest financing

There are dozens of options, depending on the industry where you compete. The important thing is to find something you can provide that the customer can’t easily receive from someone else, but won’t seriously impact your profit margin.

Empower Your Staff

You’re busy, your employees are busy, and your customers are busy. Out of respect for everyone’s time, make sure your employees are empowered – at a reasonable level – to rectify customer complaints without contacting a manager.

One international hotel chain famosly allows its employees to rectify any customer concern immediately and on the spot, as long as the solution doesn’t exceed a certain dollar amount, which is dependent on the hotel’s location. Consider a similar arrangement for your business. Your customers will remember the fast response and, over the course of a year, you will have freed up a lot of executive-level time to spend on other responsibilities.

Compensate

If there’s a way to tie some measure of customer satisfaction to employee compensation, give it a try.

This can be tricky. But with some combination of customer feedback, first-hand observations and peer review, you can probably determine a way to reward outstanding customer care.

And don’t wait until the end of the year. Quarterly or even monthly recognition of employees who consistently deliver on your company’s service standards will send a very clear message about the importance of customer care.

Follow-Up

Make sure someone takes time to follow-up on customer inquiries, complaints, orders and deliveries. The primary contact person in sales or service is often enough, but a call from a manager or company executive can leave a great impression, especially with a new client.

 

Having concerns about your company’s cash flow? MP Star Financial provides invoice factoring and other funding services to small businesses. Call for more information. (800) 833-3765, extension 150.

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