A business owner from Broomfield, Colorado, asks:
I own a marketing services business of 37 staff. Recently we’ve had a spate of customer complaints. I’m in unfamiliar territory as our reputation has been first-rate over a long period. I’m concerned about losing repeat business and open to fresh ideas about customer service. Can you assist?
Kenelm Tonkin, Chairman, Tonkin Corporation answers:
Customer service involves two steps: subtly toning-down expectations, then stunningly exceeding them.
Managing expectations starts as early as product development and marketing. Proprietors must be especially alert to reputational risk caused by that killer combination: poor product quality coupled with marketing exuberance. Owners should concentrate on producing quality, then under promise and over deliver. Even if the product is good, a marketing team prone to hyperbole inevitably causes customer service issues. Have marketing offer compelling guarantees, by all means, but ensure they don’t distract your customer service team with forest fires.
With expectations managed, imagine how to delight with exceptional service. Conspire to surprise! For instance, a marketing services and graphic design business could offer 3 artwork reviews for a project. Expectations, now set, are surpassed with actual delivery of 6 reviews plus a 10% discount on the next job. Now the client is smiling. Again, if the firm offers a strict 10 page web design for a fixed price, but handles the indecipherable programmer tech-speak to advance the project, the client is happy. These “unexpected extras” are then driven-home with can-do, obliging and highly-trained customer service staff. Owners should hire smilers whose raison d'être is to help, then train them for service excellence. Document that training, ease them in and test them with follow-up customer calls, providing them feedback on the results. Answer telephone calls within 3 rings and reply to emails within 4 hours. Have a policy on refunds and returns. Cheerfully follow it. Develop a tracking system to monitor customer interaction, follow-up and solution. Differentiate your firm with proactive customer service campaigns. Contact customers when you are not actually selling something. Even the most jaded client will relish this. Finally, remember, “once a customer, forever a customer.”