Monday, March 30, 2009

Stop lowering your price, raise your customer service

Prakash Sadagopan, Director of Product Strategy at Converges recently spoke at the OSS/BSS Asia Pacific Summit. His report was ground breaking. Through research he found that the customer’s experience was as important as the product being sold, and more important than brand or price.

So, what does that mean to you? If you are trying to compete as the lowest price competitor you may very well may be missing the mark. So many businesses try to compete with lower prices. If you are one of those lowest price competitors, my guess is that you have to trim expenses. Often, when trimming expenses the first thing that goes is trained , engaged employees. After all if you think that your customer just wants the lowest price why would you bother with having a full service staff. Instead you should consider ways to simplify services and processes.

Customers who are always looking for the lowest price are not loyal. They skip from one company to the next looking for the next best deal. To really build a business you need and want a customer base who is loyal to you. Those loyal customers form the backbone of a successful business, because they not only come back time and again, they tell their friends and family about you.

What do these potentially loyal customers want from you? According to Sadagopan, 64% of the customers want knowledgeable employees, who address their needs on the first contact and treats them like a valued customer.

He ends his presentation with four steps that you need to take to start building your loyal customer base.
1. Proactive Care actively seek out opportunities to help your customers
2. Lifetime value Use every contact to increase the value of your relationships
3. Agent efficiency Help your agents resolve customer issues quickly
4. Automation effectiveness Improve automation to the point where customers prefer it.

In future columns we will explore each of these steps. For now, look for ways to make your customers feel valued and respected by greeting them warmly the minute they walk in your door.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Good Old Fashioned Customer Service is New Again

I just read an interesting article in the Bay City Times, about retailers in Bay City Michigan. I am sure you are aware of how tough things are in Michigan. But the retailers in this small town have figured out what to do to keep their customers. Not surprisingly, their secret is, as they say, "good old fashioned customer service and building relationships"

In the article, Susan Yaklin-Everson, a co-owner at Violets Blue, said that "she is going the extra mile on customer service." Water Front Market owner Greg Schultz said "he's surviving a tough economy by putting himself in the customer's shoes."

These simple ideas can make a huge difference in YOUR business. I recommend that you (or a friend or family member) pretend that they are a customer and try to do business with you. They should look at your policies and processes. Your phone system, can they get to who they need easily (no far cheating on this one?) Have them pretend that they don't have the secret direct number. Have them try to return something, or make an appointment or reservation.

Most businesses that I have worked with have found that they made it hard for their customers to do business with them, in one way or another. You might be surprised at how hard you have made it for your customers.

Do what they are doing with great success in Bay City, go back to providing good old fashioned customer service and start today.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Can You Afford to Give Exceptional Customer Service in Tough Economic Times?

Okay, perhaps the better question is "Can you afford not to?

Recently, J.D. Power and Associates reported that exceptional service satisfaction enhances automotive dealer and manufacturer profitability by improving customer retention even as sales decline.

I have one comment on their finding. "Duh!"

OK, seriously, they are absolutely correct. NO business can afford to NOT provide exceptional service 100 % of the time.

You have experienced it yourself. You walk into a business, whether it is your physician’s office, a fast food franchise, a department store or the offices of a large corporation, and you are welcomed like a valued guest. The greeting you receive is warm, sincere and immediate. The rest of your experience is made better by this simple act. But, you have also experienced the completely opposite experience—probably more often. You walk in and you are treated badly or maybe worse—totally ignored. No matter how positive the rest of your experience with this business may be, you are much less likely to be a satisfied customer.

Great customer service has always been important. But, in these tough economic times, businesses can’t afford not to get their customer service absolutely right. And yet, more often than not, this best practice eludes most service providers.

An online survey showed that 77 percent of customers will never return to a business simply because of how they were greeted. Most of them leave without ever saying why. With that huge of a loss in business, it’s clear all businesses need to greet their customers properly.

Today, create goodwill and great experiences at your business by providing exceptional customer service. Write and share what you did.