By Bob Bugle
There are a number of important factors that impact customer retention. Product quality, efficiency, availability and pricing are just a few. As customers’ needs change and their expectations rise, continuous improvement of current products and processes and the innovation of better ones are vital if companies, and indeed entire industries are to remain relevant.
It wasn’t that long ago that we shopped at the local Tower Records or Best Buy for the latest releases from our favorite recording artists, or stopped by the nearby Blockbuster on our way home from work to rent a movie. Today much of the entertainment we see and hear is streamed into our homes via Netflix or Hulu or downloaded off iTunes or Amazon.
While companies and technologies come and go, one constant that is the hallmark of every successful organization is the obsession with providing their customers with a positive experience.
In today’s economy, providing excellent customer service is not an option. Our continued gainful employment and the survival of the companies or organizations we work for are inextricably tied to the value proposition we provide and the quality of the buying experience we deliver to our customers.
But how do we define excellent customer service? More importantly, how do our customers define it? An easy trap to fall into is to assume that what is important to us is automatically important to our customers.
Based on years of selling and managing ad sales organizations, working with business managers and owners across a wide spectrum of industries, the following are the elements that I have found to be most critical to providing the highest levels of customer service:
- Maintain your integrity at all cost. Customers must believe you before they decide if they will do business with your company. If they don’t trust you, they won’t do business with you under any circumstance. Only promise what you know for a fact you can deliver.
- Be attentive. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Do your research, understand your customer’s needs and offer solutions.
- Make it easy for customers to do business with you and your company. Be respectful of the processes you have in place in order to operate efficiently, but insert as much flexibility into your processes as possible. Understand that the more work you create for your customers, the more business you create for your competitors.
- Be responsive. Return phone calls and e mails as quickly as possible. A quick response lets the customer know you received their message and will address their needs in a timely manner. Every customer should have your mobile phone number. Most customers will never call, but knowing that it’s important to you that they can reach you during off hours should the need arise speaks volumes to your professionalism and customer focus.
- Be knowledgeable. Learn as much as you can about your business and take the time to learn about your customer’s. The more you understand your customer’s needs and your company’s capabilities the better you’ll be positioned to offer solutions
- Make sure that everyone in the organization understands the importance of the customer. Not everyone will be in a position to answer a question or help every customer with a problem, but if the only people who understand the importance of providing excellent customer service are in sales or management you’re organization is walking on thin ice.
- Make sure that someone is available at all times to conduct business with every customer. If you’re out of the office or somehow unavailable, another person must be knowledgeable enough and empowered to make decisions in your absence. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing “Person X is out of the office and unavailable and no one here can help you.”
- Manage expectations and make sure you hit deadlines. Marshal whatever resources are required. If in spite of your best efforts you can’t accomplish a task or complete a project on time, explain why the delay occurred and ask for an extension that you know you can hit. No one wants to hear bad news, but most people prefer to know sooner rather than later so they can make adjustments if possible.
- All business is not created equal. Take a long term view of your customer relationships. Loyal customers are extremely valuable, so make sure they’re treated as such. New business development is important, but you need to take extra care of the customers that are with you in good times and in bad.
- Say “Thank You” often. Make sure your customers know you appreciate their business and your relationship with them. Often, a simple thank you card can have a big impact. I received the following note just the other day: “I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your renewed advertising in 2015 for (client’s name). I really appreciate your business. I know there are a lot of options out there. Thanks for believing in our value.”