What kind of experience do customers have with your company? Do you know? What grade would they give you? What might they tell their friends?
Most business owners think they have good customer care. Sadly, most of them are wrong and profits slip through their fingers because of it. Developing and maintaining long-term customer relationships is the foundation of a successful business. Providing "killer customer care" is the key in converting prospects into loyal clients.
So how do you do this? The answer is straightforward enough: you build your business from the ground up around the specific needs and demands of your target market.
Create Remarkable Customer Care Systems
With so many quality goods and services available, customer care may be your single greatest weapon for competing in a crowded marketplace, and the only and best way for you to differentiate your business.
While competitors languish, you can have customer care systems that are remarkable and a company culture that keeps customers coming back again and again. Spending time on killer customer care will give your products and services superior value, a competitive advantage, and a handsome return on your investment in this critical business process.
"Killer customer care refers to the combination of principles, ideas, and techniques that are designed to consistently and systematically enhance the depth and breadth of your business relationship with its customers. Killer customer care is the ultimate competitive differentiation for businesses in the twenty-first century" (George Colombo, Killer Customer Care).
Since your primary business objective is to profitably find, serve, and keep customers, you must learn to think like them. Thinking like your customers—walking in their shoes—will help you achieve the kind of customer care that will engender loyalty and escalate sales.
Let’s consider six important suggestions your customers would have for you, but may never say to your face.
Add the Personal Touch
As your customers, we hope to be served and sometimes educated, but not sold. We like it when your customer-service staff are cheerful, courteous, and helpful. An old proverb says, “If you cannot smile, do not open a shop.” In other words, we like nice—not grumpy—people to help us with our problems.
In addition, give us clear communication without jargon, legalese, or thick accents. Call us by name and personalize our service when possible. We are grateful for your staff who listen, take the reins for solving our problem, and are quick to respond to our needs. Talking to someone with expertise and a can-do attitude builds our confidence and trust in your company. And please don’t ever take us for granted. We want to feel important throughout the life of our relationship with you.
Deliver On Your Promise with Good Systems
We like to do business with companies that keep their promises. We appreciate it when your business systems hande our contacts, order fulfillment, and problem resolution without errors or hassle. Hopefully, your systems empower customer-care representatives to solve our problems quickly, and turn our frustrations into appreciation and gratitude. Good systems will ensure that you keep your commitments. Remember: Consistency and reliability over time are far more important to us than occasional promotions or grand events. And any dissatisfaction we may have is likely from a breakdown somewhere in your businssess systems and processes.
WOW Us On Occassion
OK, so we value reliability and consistency; however, we also love to have fun or be entertained. We like a pleasant surprise or a good WOW now and again. New products or services, engaging promotions, an element of freshness and unpredictability, will keep our interest and enthusiasm high. Bottom line: Give us a great buying experience—meeting and exceeding expectations—and we will become loyal fans. We may even tell our friends!
Ask Our Opinion
Good companies listen closely to what their customers have to say. Ask some of the following questions to understnd our feelings about your company:
- What could we do to give you a better buying experience?
- What do you like or not like about our product or service?
- What could we do for you that we are currently not doing?
- Why were you annoyed, frustrated, disappointed or surprised?
- What do you like better about our competition?
- Would you recommend our company to others? Why or Why not?
Take a moment and shop your business from OUR point of view. You might try hiring a "mystery shopper" who will report back to you. Remember: If you want to understand our expectations, just ask! We feel honored when you invite our feedback. Be gracious when we are frank and share with you the brutal truth about our buying experience. After all, we want you to be the best, perhaps even more than you do!
Some of our feedback to you will be quantitative in nature, a business measure. For example, how often did we return merchandise because of a problem? Other information is qualitative and may come in the form of complaints or suggestions. Consider using brief, focused, and timely surveys. Keep it simple. Finally, create a system to capture your customer feedback. Transfer it to those who can analyze the information and make needed improvements.
Follow the Golden Rule
Truthfuly, we only want the same customer experience you want when you are a buyer. Just practice the Golden Rule; treat us the way you would like to be treated. When your company culture adopts this philosophy—when you build it into your business systems—you will become remarkable.
It Will Be Worth It
Systematically carried out over time, killer customer care will make your business dramatically more profitable. Repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals lower the cost of sales. A close relationship with customers produces customer-driven products and services that sell.
Nowadays, the investment required to find each new customer can be justified only by looking at the total lifetime value of that customer. Protect your investment in sales and marketing from tough competitors by giving customers a great experience. And focus your very best efforts on your most important customers.
Where to Start
Begin by defining exactly what experience you want your customer to have. Then identify the most common interactions you have with them.
- Do customers call?
- Do they walk in?
- Do they talk to sales people?
- Do they visit your web site?
- Do they need technical assistance?
- Do they exchange or return merchandise?
- How do you interact with first-time customers?
- Where do you get the most complaints?
Each customer contact is a moment of truth, a time when the relationship is either strengthened or broken. Mistakes (usually a breakdown in your customer-service systems) are nothing more than opportunities to turn regular customers into lifetime customers. After all, mistakes yield only two outcomes: Either your client is frustrated and leaves with a negative memory of your company, or your client is pleased with the solution and becomes more loyal to your company.
Your employees need to know that customer care is everyone's job, regardless of what other functions they perform. Your job is to create a company culture committed to the sincere caring, guidance, and protection of your customers. To achieve end-to-end killer customer care requires teamwork and shared goals, which means all systems and incentives must reward customer care and never conflict with it. Build staff loyalty first and you will ensure that their positive energy and enthusiasm is transferred to serving customers. Never stop talking about how to improve the customer experience. Your business success depends upon it!
Finally, to achieve consistency, document exactly how you want your employees to respond in each situation. Every response should strengthen the customer relationship. You must create systems that consistently deliver the experience you have defined for each type of contact. With everyone in your business responding the same way every time, the customer knows exactly what to expect, and can depend on you to provide it.
Six Stages of Customer Loyalty
As a bonus, your excellent customer service will simultaneously build your brand and your customers' allegiance to you. It will move them through the six stages of customer loyalty: suspect, prospect, first-time customer, repeat customer, client, and advocate. If they aren’t moving forward, begin improving your weak or ineffective systems.
Which Doctor Would You Choose?
I took my aged mother to the doctor last week to discuss a hip replacement. We waited a long time in the waiting room and spoke mostly with the doctor's assistant. When the doctor arrived, he quickly looked at the x-ray and painted perhaps a realistic picture of a difficult surgery with slow healing and no guarantee that my mother would walk without some pain. We decided to get a second opinion. The second doctor received us on time. He explained the x-ray with a model of a hip joint. He expressed optimism that the surgery would be routine and that she would likely have a full recovery. Both were highly recommended surgeons and the procedure would be performed in essentially the same manner by each. Which doctor do you think made the sale?
You Must Lead the Way
The importance of customer care is most felt by owners and managers. It is up to them to develop a customer-centric organization. Owners must create a vision, implement systems, empower employees, obtain feedback, measure results, and celebrate success. They must become evangelists in communicating the gospel of killer customer care to everyone in their organization.
Get in the Zone. Create your unique vision of killer customer care. Climb above the competition. Become remarkable! Don't just make sales; create satisfied customers and watch your profits grow!
However, keep in mind that you can’t do it all with great systems. You must also have great people. Hiring the best people is another essential step in growing the perfect business.