The lifeblood of your business is the money you get from your customers. Without it, obviously, you will go out of business. Customers can be fickle, but they can also be die-hard loyalists to your product. Part of their loyalty can be gained by what you sell, but the bulk is how they are treated in good times and bad. Think about your business processes and policies when it comes to customer service. Is there any place which might be a potential point of frustration? More importantly, if this wasn't your business, would you be happy to be treated just like your customers?
Bureaucracy is a major potential pitfall in dealing with customers. Perhaps your company is so big that it can't really give the personal touch, or maybe your employee base cannot be relied on to make the best decisions. In either case, strict guidelines and policies must be in place to ensure the business runs properly. Unfortunately, this leaves you wide open for customer relations issues
For example, take a look at a once loyal patron of Sears, who ran into a web of red tape, not because of a product return or complaint, but because he wanted to make a purchase. Basically, due to problems ordering online, he was unable to purchase a $1,500 tractor. After a multitude of calls with employees, customer service, and supervisors he went to Lowes.
Sears online store could not properly make a credit card transaction, or possibly the problem was a breakdown in communications between the store and shipping. Regardless, not a single employee felt any urge to make the sale happen. As it looks, Sears as a company needs every sale they can get, but this customer's money - and all his future business - is gone forever.
Another trouble spot is between your customers, your employees, and money. Refunds happen all the time and should be treated as the commonplace event that they are. Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, told his employees to accept any returns, even if they were not purchased at Wal-Mart. The reason he gave was if they gave them money and good customer service, the customers will take their refund and spend it in the store. . . then come back again and again.
Of course Wal-Mart has a much diversified product list and this attitude cannot be replicated at just any business, but the concept is worth its weight in gold. Most customer problems that arise after the sale have a receipt as ground zero. Your receipt is a binding contract with the consumer that says you sold them something for which they paid you in return. As a result of this contract, you have to honor that little slip of paper. Sometimes the receipt isn't even there, but the ghost of the contract still hovers over your employee and your customer. It's your livelihood at stake if you do anything less than go the extra mile to resolve the issue.
Take for example a customer dealing with Zales. He bought some wedding rings on a payment plan and due to the lack of credit card equipment in the store, he had to pay cash each month in person. Now this already shows a lack in consideration to the modern consumer, but it is not that bad by itself. The problem arose after the customer had made a $160 payment, gotten his receipt, and left. Within a few days, the store manager called to say their video equipment had recorded the employee putting too few bills in the register. Despite the proof of the receipt for full payment, the manager wanted the customer to pay $100 dollars to make up the shortage.
Many things are passed onto the consumer such as state and federal taxes, shipping costs, and price fluctuations. One thing that should NEVER be passed on is employee incompetence, bad attitude, or mistakes. If it is not the customers fault, don't try to make it so. Any small monetary gain you may get in the short term will lose you so much more when your customer takes his money elsewhere.
Customer service is a balance of diplomacy, flexibility, and acting. No matter how unjust the situation seems, you must look ahead and weigh the short term gain with the relationship you will build by making your customer happy. Never forget that an angry customer is easy to spot, but it is the quiet, abused customer that will simply smile at bad customer service and never give you their money again.
George Page gives practical and usable advice regarding SBA Loans and ideas for small business.
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