Customer Service consists of many important attributes, if you fail to provide each and every one, you will fail to reach your full potential
Appreciation – Do you and your staff fully appreciate your clients? If so, how do they know it?
Value – Do you and your staff offer value they can't find elsewhere? If so, how do they know it?
Communication – Are you able to predict when a client will want to communicate, and/or are you surprising them with above and beyond communication?
Honesty – Ae you out to make a sale, or are you out to serve your client? You may think only you know the answer, but the truth is, many of your clients and potential clients do also.
Solutions – Do you provide solutions that the client wasn't aware of and do not benefit you directly? Selling your product is a solution, but they're paying for that, do you provide solutions that are beyond what's expected?
If you don't provide awesome customer service, you're at risk of losing clients. Most business owners and sales people know the best type of sales prospect is a referral. But not all referrals are the same. You have no control over their underlying desire for your product or service offering before you meet them, but you have almost full control over the level of enthusiasm with your company, product, service, and/or you the referred prospect has when you meet. I'm going to provide a few ideas for you to think about your current level of service, and ways to improve.
I'm also including an email I sent to a service provider today that isn't living up to the contract. It's a letter many clients want to write, at least from the standpoint of what they expect from the people they're doing business with, but few will take the time to write. They'll just leave, and/or not order again. The letter will come in a few paragraphs, but let's discuss what matters in customer service, namely, relative customer service.
In order to receive enthusiastic ready to buy referred prospects, you have to provide customer service that is up and above what is expected and what your competitors are providing. If you say you have great service, but really don't do anything beyond what everyone else is doing, than your customer service isn't great, it isn't good, it's just average. That's a reality many don't want to hear, much less accept as the truth, but a self assessment isn't that difficult to perform.
Ask yourself this, what do you do that your competitors, and by competitors, I don't mean the worst competitors, I'm referring to the leaders in the space that they don't do? Don't side-step the question like so many with answers including "we're more friendly", "we care about our clients" yada yada yada. That's not an answer, that's closer to an acknowledgment your service is average, or worse yet, sucks. You have to be able to answer WHY.
Why are you more friendly, what makes your staff more friendly, and how do your clients know this?
How are clients able to know you care MORE than others?
If you answered with "We open an hour before, or are open an hour later to better serve our clients", you're on the right path. That's an example of what you're doing that your competitor's are not.
How much easier is it for a client to do business with you compared to others? Remember, it's not how easy you're to work with, it's how easy compared to others that really matters.
How much communication do you provide compared to others? This is a big one and it's hard to over-estimate the importance with communication. Every "touch" (a touch is any type of interaction with your client) can add value, or destroy a relationship depending on how you go about it.
Their relative level of enthusiasm is directly related to the level of service you provide your clients, the actual people making (or if they're not happy, not making) the referral for you.
Worse still, your clients won't recommend you to others. And by recommend, you don't want the conversation between a client and a potential client to tranverse along these lines…
Potential client – "I need _______ (fill in your product or service), do you know anyone?"
Your client – "I use (name of your company), they're pretty good, what are you doing later, do you want to grab a drink:"
Compare the above to the following instead….
Potential client – "I need _______ (fill in your product or service), do you know anyone?"
Your client – "Oh, wow, I have to say, (name of your company) is fantastic, I would highly recommend them and wouldn't consider anyone else. I've tried XXXX, and XXXXX and (your business) is the best because……….and I'll get you their number if you want."
The difference is striking to be sure, but the level of enthusiasm a client's referral is to your business is a direct reflection on their perceived value you have for them. Clients want to be valued, they want to feel like they matter and if they have a problem, they can count on you talking care of them. Feeling wanted and valued comes from how they're treated. If you're treating clients the same as everyone else, you're not going to get the amount of positive over-the-top referrals that you might as well should get. And why should you if you're not motivating them to do so.
It's expensive to provide better service. It takes training, time, money, extra staff, investments in software and processes to provide better service. Plus many clients will never know the difference. However, when considered in the frame of marketing dollars to gain clients vs. dollars spent to make your clients love you, which do you think will provide the better long-term investment? Only you can answer that for your company, but for my money, the choice isn't really a choice.
I want the super easy, ready to buy referrals because I get two for one when it happens. First, I get to move straight into the trusted advisor role, which is where I can best service the client because I don't have to take the time and effort to win their trust (as much), and secondly, my current client isn't nearly as likely to leave, even if they can save a few nickels. If you take really great care of your clients, another with a better price isn't nearly as likely to even get a chance to make the pitch, much less the sale. Plus, even if they do get to make a pitch, many clients who are very price sensitive will not move unless there's a significantly better value in leaving. In today's competitive market, that's not likely to happen unless value is being removed to lower price.
Here's the letter I wrote today and I welcome your feedback……
I hope you're doing well.
I've been in business probably longer than you've been an adult, maybe longer than you've been alive. My impression is you're a good person with lots of potential. The first project went great, very pleased, mostly with the service. The _______ was "ok", but your service was great, and that's what really mattered for me to order the second project.
It was your service that made me want to do more business with you. I don't have time to write this email, so I hope you'll appreciate my motivation is to help you. I could simply ask for my money back, but decided on a different approach. One that I hope will help you build your business while at the same time, allow me to plan and schedule my staff for the delivery.
Did you know, it's much better to communicate with someone and give them bad news than it is to avoid them? It's true, and here are some examples of what to do, and what not to do.
If you're going to be late on delivery?
Don't hope the client won't contact you
Do contact the client and let them know BEFORE they contact you
When you fail to contact first, and the client contacts you asking what the status is?
Don't avoid the client and hope they won't bother you again until you're ready to deliver
As quick as you can, respond and provide an honest assessment, and if anything pad the amount of time so when you do deliver, it's at least ahead of the last updated schedule (but don't pad too much that it disrupts your client's schedule)
When you take a project, should you provide regular updates?
If it's a project that takes a small amount of time, maybe daily updates
For longer projects (more than a month), at least once a week, or at major points, whichever is more often.
You see, providing regular updates lets the client know you care about them, and you respect and appreciate their business.
Communication will build your business, because it builds trust and confidence in you and your firm.
If you're thinking "What about the backlash and lost sales from alerting clients we're going to be late?" It's better to lose those clients right away, before you spend time and effort trying to keep them, because it's much better to lose a client that believes you treated them well and you respected them more than trying to make a sale, than it is to have a one-time sale from a client that won't do business with you again.
in other words, it's better to lose a sale today, and preserve the relationship so you can provide a service or product in the future, than to make a quick, albeit resentful sale. Future value from clients is almost always worth multiples more than a current sale. A valued trusting relationship means referrals and additional sales, while a destroyed relationship means you will spend time, energy, and money prospecting for future clients.
Once you learn you're not going to deliver on your promise, whether it's a delivery date, or some other attribute, it's time to think about what you can add in value to make up for your shortcoming. It might be a reduction in price, but often adding more to the deal is better for you and for the client.
Because you're already solving a problem for the client, you likely know other related problems that can be solved and added in. If you can solve another problem, even after you deliver on the first solution, it will be welcomed and will mitigate the first shortcoming.
One of the many lessons I learned while in Japan is "Today's profit means nothing, tomorrow's profit means everything". In other words, if you focus on the money, and discount the lifetime value of the client, you'll always struggle because it's the clients, not the sales that truly matter. Focus on the client, and the sale will come, and your business will grow.
If you focus on the money, your client will know it, and will seek out someone else with a sense of providing value, instead of cashing in. Plus, the client won't have to seek out someone else to replace you very hard because in today's wired internet world, there's always someone else willing to take your place.
I'll leave you with this final thought that we all know is very true…."If you don't take care of your client, someone else will"
I hope to hear from you soon
As you can tell, I took a very light-touch approach to this matter which is actually an unwelcome source of frustration for me. I'll write an update to let you know how it went.
Robert Weinstein is a husband, dad, stock market junkie, real estate broker, and of course…Insurance agent. Interests include my family, economics, marketing, technology, real estate, finance/investing, history, and Asia.
Robert’s insurance expertise includes having the designation of Certified in Long-Term Care (CLTC) and assist in asset protection for families with members entering retirement.
Robert is also an accomplished syndicated writer whose work can be found in TheStreet, MainStreet, CNBC, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, Seeking Alpha, MSN Money, The Money Show, Stock Saints, Motley Fool, Fidelity, Minyanville, RealMoney Pro, and many national and international newspapers.