‘Can I Help You?’ Yawn…..Sigh….
I’m sure you’ve seen it. The 20-something girl is chewing her gum, mouth open. She stands with one foot pointed at a 90 degree angle, as if she’s experiencing severe hip pain. She barely makes eye contact. You clearly interrupted her life-altering conversation with a colleague.
Or perhaps you have encountered this person on the telephone. ‘Can I help you’ is uttered with such lack of concern you’re immediately convinced you have no value to them. Often, it is said so rapidly, it sounds like one long word from an extinct language. After explaining the reason for your call, you are told ‘I don’t think we can do that’. This statement is designed to make you stop asking. Give up. Go away.
You may have visited a business which advertises regular hours, only to find the doors locked after you drive 20 minutes to do business with them. When you finally reach a living, breathing human, all you get is a ‘sorrrrrry’ uttered in the ‘I’m not really sorry but I want you to quit hassling me’ tone.
You’re finally at the checkout counter after a long wait in line. You ask the clerk if she can tell you where the chicken feet are. She replies ‘I don’t know’ and in the long silence that follows, it becomes apparent she isn’t planning to find out.
You aren’t alone. In an admittedly informal poll, every person I queried had experienced one or more of these scenarios in the past week.
Why is this?
In one word, it comes down to management and training. Or the lack thereof. For a small business owner, it can be the kiss of death. How long do you think you’ll stay in business if your customer service is memorable for the wrong reasons? Word of mouth and online reviews can kill a business.
There are some stellar examples of great customer service. Local business owners who make the effort to hire the right people, pay them fairly, treat them with respect, create repeatable systems and above all, have a structured ongoing training program.
Let’s peer into the ‘brains’ of some well-known businesses who consistently offer good service. Starbucks, Zappos, SmartPak, Amazon and 1-800-Contacts do an exemplary job of creating a great work force. What do they have in common?
- The company’s Mission, Vision and Values are clear and well thought out.
- They have a consistent and proven written system for interviewing and hiring.
- Fair pay (for the job)
- Employee loyalty is rewarded
- Respect for everyone – employees, customers, cleaning crew. Everyone. It starts at the top. There is no double standard for acceptable behavior. Period. Management sets the good example.
- Training. Ongoing, consistent training. Make sure the job description is crystal clear, the procedures logical and easy to follow. Training is not done for just a few days; it is done continually.
- Employees are trusted to do their job well and empowered to handle most customer complaints- on the spot. There is nothing nicer than being given a certificate for a free latte when you were kept waiting a bit long to make you feel loyal and appreciated.
- There is a system in place for everything from greeting and acknowledging the customer to making the customer want to return. Whether in person or online, these businesses make their customers feel valued.
- Learn to listen to your employees. They know more about your day-to-day operations than anyone. Recognize their ideas and suggestions. Employees who feel they are an integral part of a team are much more likely to perform to really high standards.
- Telephone manners are huge! Teach your staff how to talk to other humans. It is becoming a lost art. Having employees who speak with a smile, and want to be of service to your customers will set you apart from the rest of the business world.
- Call people back! Even if you’re a Solopreneur, make it your policy to return all phone calls within 2 hours. Even if you spend most of your time in the field, do not let more than 24 hours go by before you make that call. Say so on your recorded message. Better yet, hire someone to call them. Returning a call, even if it is simply an acknowledgement that your office received the message and you will get back to them is appreciated by prospects and customers. You don’t have any information for them yet? Call them back anyway to let them know they are still in your mind and you will definitely get back to them when you have answers. Then do it.
- Make it easy to order from you. Amazon and 1-800-Contacts do this beautifully. If your business is primarily conducted online, have testers go through your website to ensure the purchasing procedure is seamless. There should be nothing vague or confusing. In this day of automation, there is no excuse for not sending an e-mail acknowledging the order and another notifying when the order was shipped including the identity of the shipper, tracking number and a link so all they have to do is click.
- Make a great first impression! First impressions are important. They may be the single most important aspect of your customer service. Don’t undervalue the person(s) who answer the telephone or greet your customer. Hire the best you can find. Pay a really competitive wage for these people. You get what you pay for. This is not a job you can entrust to the less-than-perfect employee. One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is hiring an inexperienced person at minimum wage to give customers the first impression of their business. Often it becomes the first and last – and you may never know it.
- Never, ever, allow anyone in your business to say the words ‘I don’t think we can do that’. Instead, teach them to say ‘I don’t have an answer for you right now, but I will gladly check and get back to you today’, or ‘Let me find out for you’. If you truly can’t help them, refer them to someone who can. Even better, call the referral and let them know about the prospect/customer. Tell the customer the referral business is awaiting their call.
Is it difficult to create an atmosphere of great customer service? Not at all. But you must take a systematic approach to the solution. If you haven’t had experience doing this, get help! Wild Women for Business can take an objective look at your business systems and service, and help you implement policies designed to make you stand out as a shining example- of what customer service should be.