Caring about your customers - and showing it through your service - gives you a high return on the time, effort and money you invest. Loyal customers are well worth nurturing. They buy more, more regularly. And the cost of selling to them is almost nil, whereas finding new customers is an expensive business.
Satisfied customers will recommend your product to others. Dissatisfied customers will complain about you to an average of ten other customers and potential customers, multiplying the damage to your reputation.
This briefing explains:
Every communication with the customer is a chance to impress or to disappoint.
Make sure your out-of-office email and phone messages are up to date, provide alternative contact details or make it clear when you will respond.
Return your emails and calls. If you say you will send a quote by Friday, keep to that deadline.
Smile, make eye contact and look and sound enthusiastic. Speak clearly.
You are legally required to provide customers with certain information including details of their cancellation rights and financial details of any credit agreement they sign up to. Additionally, businesses who do not sell to customers face-to-face must provide customers with certain details about pricing, payment and cancellation arrangements and details about the identity and location of the business under distance-selling rules.
Keeping your promises is most important of all. Promise only what you know you can achieve.
A builder who is asked to quote on several pieces of work needs to decide how to prioritise the process of producing quotes.
Be flexible. Make it obvious to your customers that your operation is run to suit them, and not to suit your own convenience.
Do all you can behind the scenes to save your customers time, money and aggravation.
You can use your website to allow customers to place and track orders online. Make sure information from your website can be tranferred to your main database.
What you do after making a sale can help you turn your new customer into a loyal repeat buyer. It is bad business to take your eye off the ball at this stage.
Keep it brief and specific.
You can address any issues before they escalate into a full blown complaint.
For example, send regular email updates or newsletters about new products or special offers that might be of interest.
It may be helpful for your customers' technical or accounts staff to meet their opposite numbers in your business.
It is often read by existing customers and can help reassure customers about your business and its products.
Key customers can be given out-of-hours contact numbers isn case of emergencies, where appropriate.
Unless you listen out for complaints and grumbles, you may be genuinely unaware of what you need to improve.
Most complainers just want to make a point.
The customer will not buy from you again and may also try to put other people off buying.
A classic customer care success story from the 1980s was the turnaround of the Swedish airline, SAS.
Following a disastrous year when SAS made a loss of $8 million, the company promoted a young marketing executive, Jan Carlzon, to the position of president. Just 18 months later, the airline achieved a gross profit of $71 million.
While competitors had concentrated on cutting costs in an effort to reduce their losses, Carlzon had focused on customer care.
He started by identifying the airline's most important customers - business flyers. He then asked them what would make them want to fly with SAS, rather than a competitor. The answer was loud and clear. They wanted punctual flights.
Carlzon put a monitor on his desk, showing the take-off and landing of every SAS flight, around the world. He personally phoned pilots to find the reasons for any delays. Suddenly, SAS flights became extremely punctual and new customers started queuing up.
Choose the customer-care strategies that are appropriate to your situation. Then establish systems to make it all happen, and monitor your actual performance.
Think about where poor service would discourage customers and lose you business.
Try placing an order and see what happens.
'What would you want to change or improve about our product or service? What else can we do to improve our offer?'
For example, keep records of what, when and how much each customer buys, and their preferred delivery dates. That way you can make sure you have the product and quantities they require when they require it. you can also contact them when your records indicate they are likely to require more goods.
Whether there are two of you or 20, everyone in your business has a role to play in customer care. It is not just the people in obvious frontline roles who need to be involved.
If you do not, you cannot expect them to care for your customers.
Whoever usually answers the phone should be trained thoroughly, to a high level of professionalism.
At the same time, everyone in the company should be taught how to handle calls and take basic enquiries.
'Sorry, we have made a mistake' sounds a hundred times better than 'It's not my fault, it's our sales people.'