How to Create a Customer Service Plan¹
Customer service is a critical element of your business. With vast competition in the marketplace, customer service can be a determining factor for customers when deciding where they are going to purchase goods and services, and whether or not they return for future purchases. Since a large percentage of revenues come from existing customers, and it can cost up to five times as much to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one, keeping your customers happy makes good economic sense.
Customer Service Defined
Customer service captures a whole range of actions and responses. These include your customer's perception of the quality and price of your product or service, delivery, response to questions, problem resolution, and contact with employees or your website. Basically, customer service is a component in all aspects of your business.
What are customers looking for?
According to extensive research, customers are looking for:
- Staff friendliness
- Efficient service
- Product range/appeal
- Value for money (attractive pricing)
- Taking ownership of service
- Store presentation/environment
How Can You Give Your Customers Excellent Service?
Make it a top priority to develop in your company an attitude and culture of service. Live it and breathe it. Reward excellence. Foster pride in your product and make your employees feel like they have a stake in the success of the company. Treat your employees with the same respect and service that you would expect them to give to your customers. How effectively can your employees provide service to your customers if they are stressed-out, overworked, and under-appreciated themselves? And, of course, treat your customers like the VIPs they are. According to the Customer Service Institute, most customers don't follow through on the sale because of a perceived attitude or indifference toward them by the owner, manager or an employee. Use these tips to put a positive spin on the customer service experience:
- Be knowledgeable and accessible. Your customers may have questions before, during, and after the sale. Provide as many avenues for answering their questions as you can. If you have a website, include as much information as you can. Most sites contain a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, where common inquiries can be answered quickly and effectively, any time of day. Some customers actually prefer this method. Be sure to include either a phone number or e-mail address for questions that aren't covered in the FAQ. If you have someone answering a phone, be sure they are friendly, speak clearly, and are knowledgeable about your product, policies, and procedures. It is a good idea to have a list that stays by the phone of frequently asked questions, a list of employee phone extensions and responsibilities, and directions to your business. Make sure that everyone in your company is aware of phone procedures and understands the importance of answering the phone appropriately.
- Be reliable. Do what you say you're going to do. If you say your product will ship on Monday, and then ship it on Monday.
- Be proactive. Train your employees well, and make sure your policies and procedures enhance customer service rather than detract from it. When you do encounter a problem, and you will, learn from your mistakes and correct them as soon as possible.
- Alert your customers to problems before they have a chance to complain. If your website will be down for maintenance, let your customers know ahead of time so they aren't frustrated or dubious about your company when they can't access your site. Let them know if shipping will be delayed because of a holiday. Tell them up front if you can't quite deliver on something you promised, do what you can to satisfy them, and give them something extra for being such a good customer.
- Suggest additional products or services they might be interested in. Whether it's an additional component to what they are already ordering, or something you think they might like based on previous orders, they'll appreciate the extra attention, and you may be able to sell them something they wouldn't have thought of otherwise.
- Be responsive. Answer questions quickly and accurately. Problems can become bigger, and something that wasn't originally a problem could become one if your customer has to wait too long for a response from you. But remember, giving a wrong answer can be worse than taking a little extra time to get the right one.
- Resolve issues quickly and generously. If, despite all your preventative measures, you do have a complaint, do everything you can to set things right again. Fix the problem. Show sincere concern for any discomfort, frustration, or inconvenience. Then "do a little bit more" by giving your customers something positive to remember - a token of goodwill, a small gift of appreciation, a discount on future orders, or an upgrade to a higher class of product. This is not the time to lay blame for what went wrong, or to calculate the costs of repair. Restoring customer goodwill is worth the price in future orders and new business.
- Empower your employees to resolve issues. Frustration levels will increase each time a customer is transferred to another person. Empowering your employees to solve problems emphasizes not only your confidence in your employees, but also your commitment to customer service by resolving issues immediately and not requiring customers to first go to an employee (or several employees) that can't really help them.
- Appreciate your complaining customers. Customers with complaints can be your best allies in building and improving your business. They point out where your system is faulty and where procedures are weak or problematic. They show you where your products are below expectations or your service doesn't measure up. They point out areas where your competitors are getting ahead, or where your staff is falling behind. These are the same insights and conclusions that people pay consultants to provide. But a "complainer" gives them to you free! And remember, for every one person who complains, there are many more that won't even bother to tell you. The others just take their business elsewhere. Studies have shown that customers who have complained to an organization and had their complaints satisfactorily resolved tell an average of five people about the treatment they receive.
- Follow up. Contact your customers to make sure they received their orders in good condition, and that they are satisfied with your product. If all is well, you've created some goodwill; if there is a problem, you can work on satisfying a customer that might otherwise have been lost. Asking for feedback after a problem has been resolved can also help you measure how well your procedures are working and to identify any areas that need improvement.