With so many franchises, discount stores, and fast-food restaurants everywhere, we’ve seen the quality of service
and friendliness in retail business become all but extinct. And industrial, business, and manufacturing personnel seem to be inflexible and even less helpful. You get greeted by voicemail rather than by a businesslike human voice. Exceptional service and empathy for the customer are difficult to find, especially in many larger companies that feel you have to buy from them because they have numerous stores and massive advertising budgets. They flood the media and think that a majority of buyers will heed their call.
This is where a small business can make the most headway against competitors and grow a business—with customer service. These two words alone tell the story:
Customer. A person who buys from you and pays you money for your product or service.
Service. To help people with any question, problem, procedure, or decision in a professional and friendly manner.
How can you possibly have a successful business without both parts? Some business owners have tried, but most have failed. When quality and prices are similar, who are you going to buy from? Probably the company that treats you the best and is the most helpful.
You want repeat business from about 95 percent of your customers, and the only way you’re going to get it is if they were
happy and satisfied with their most recent purchase. When you consider the lifetime value of a customer, the money and time you spend on perfecting your service looks very cheap. These lifetime customers are the people who will support you during business slowdowns and poor economic times. They are also the people who will refer their friends, relatives, and business associates.
Great customer service means more than just doing the ordinary; it’s over and above what is expected—that little extra. It doesn’t just happen; you must make it happen by constantly training, reviewing, and reminding your employees. Without customers, their job (and yours) is non-existent. No money flows into the business to pay them if there aren’t satisfied customers who purchase regularly from the business. This sounds very simple, and you’d think everyone would know it, but people can forget it if they’re not reminded.
When you visit a fast-food restaurant or a large corporate store, you sort of expect to be treated with indifference and a cool attitude. Or you get that fake smile and artificial, “How are you today?” Most of these establishments (though not all) concentrate on training their employees in how to do the job correctly rather than in how to treat the customer. They rely on their expensive advertising to bring back customers for special offers instead of creating an atmosphere that makes customers want to come back of their own accord. Perhaps people are just getting used to this treatment and keep buying because they think there’s no other choice. A small business can offer another choice and take away some of these customers. Smart business owners know this and use it to their advantage.
As a small business, you probably don’t have a massive advertising budget, so you should take the easier, cheaper, and better way: outstanding customer service. If I’m at a fast-food restaurant and someone is extremely helpful, pleasant, and attentive (believe me, they stick out), I’ll give the person my business card and let him know that if he’s ever looking for a job, he should give me a call. These outstanding employees are rare, and when you find one, you should always leave the door open for future contact should the situation arise. If the person’s employer is treating him right, he
probably won’t leave, but if the employee is not being treated well in his current situation, you’ve created an opportunity.
If you’re lucky enough to have one of these outstanding employees on your staff, handle him with care and let new hires observe him in action.
Keep in mind that when your employees aren’t happy, it will spill over to your customers. Are they seeing people who enjoy their jobs or grumpy, sarcastic clock-watchers? When your customer contact is on the phone and not in person, the same feelings are transmitted by tone of voice or attitude. If you’re smiling on your end of the phone, customers will know it on the other end. The same is true if you’re in a bad mood—customers will be able to tell, even over the phone.
As a small business, you can provide excellent customer service at very little cost, and this can be your catalyst in outsmarting your bigger competitors. The care and friendliness you provide is just as important as your products and services and should not be overlooked. Customers will remember this, and you will profit from it.