How to provide customer service that improves your business. As a veteran of the international hospitality industry, I understand customer service intimately, especially as it relates to small business. Prior to that, I worked for the Gallup Organization, a top market research firm, where I spent long hours delving into the stories of customers who’d experienced problems with larger companies. Though my work in market research benefited my ability to deal with customers, I truly cut my teeth on customer service when handling customers’ requests while running our boutique hospitality business.
Why Customer Service is Important?
At its core, the hospitality industry focuses on customer service. Yet customer service is something that all businesses should focus upon. Whatever you want to achieve as a business begins with knowing what your customers want and giving it to them.
The best way to prevent problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Keep in mind these aspects of customer relations whenever dealing with your customers:
- Encourage customers to feel that they own the products and services your business delivers.
- Incorporate how your customer feels and views the world in order to improve service.
- Make sure your business serves its customers and that they understand the benefits your business provides them.
- Seek out what’s most important and valuable to customers.
Regardless of the industry, customer service is one of the most important aspects of any business, as without customers there can be no business.
Dealing with Challenging Customers
That said, not everything will always go according to plan. So be prepared for those occasions when you need to deal with a less than happy customer. Here are 10 things you should do whenever a customer has a problem:
- Listen to your customer. In order to resolve a problem, you first need to understand it. For that, you need to see things from your customer’s perspective. Let her first explain the story without interrupting or becoming defensive.
- Venting by the customer will help on its own. Often, just allowing the customer to tell his story will help alleviate much of the anger and frustration, making the problem easier to resolve.
- Acknowledge the issue. Nod and repeat the customer’s concerns. Just accepting that there is an issue that needs resolving will help her feel understood. In this way, she’ll be less likely to take negative action against your company, which can range from writing a bad review online to taking legal action.
- Delve deeper in order to tease out what went wrong. You might even try asking brief questions to get to the reason behind why he’s upset. By ascertaining what he most wants resolved, you’re helping to reveal what actions you can take. Do this for two reasons. First, it will help develop rapport with the customer that may allow you to resolve the issue amicably through understanding what he wants. Secondly, it may improve your company’s overall customer service by preventing this sa,e situation from happening to someone else.
- Remain calm. When people are angry, they often say hurtful things. Don’t react in kind. Reacting in a similar fashion is a sure way to raise your customer’s ire further, and will simply fuel additional vitriol. Rather approach her issue as a learning experience.
- Apologize once the customer finishes. But do so in a manner that makes him feel that you empathize. Apologize for any mistakes made, but do so sincerely and in a manner that doesn’t sound condescending. Everyone makes mistakes, and admitting that one was made will often help de-escalate difficult situations.
- Ask your customer what she wants. This is the part where you can start looking into solutions. Very often a customer is just frustrated with what went wrong, and not really cognizant of what she really wants. Making your customer a part of the solution will further endear her to you, and will keep you from having to guess on a solution.
- Do not overpromise. Yes, promising the world might get your customer to stop shouting at you, but you don’t want him to return even more angry if you’re unable to deliver. You don’t want to backtrack, as it makes you look like a fool. It’s better to over-deliver and over-promise.
- Compromise with your customer if you can’t give her exactly what she wants. If she wants the situation resolved immediately, but you understand that it can only be resolved in a couple days’ time due to lack of stock, be honest with your customer. It’s better to deal honestly with your customers. But if you do promise something, make sure you deliver.
- Leave your customer happier. Whatever the result of your interactions with a challenging customer, try your best to leave that customer satisfied. He will respect your efforts, even if they do not exactly line up with what he wants.
You won’t be able to resolve every situation amicably, but using these tools you can usually help prevent problems from worsening.
In a final note to business owners and managers of businesses everywhere, it is indeed your responsibility as the person in charge to listen to customers and resolve their problems. You can have a whole customer service department behind you, but as the owner or manager you are the one responsible for resolving any problems associated with your business.
If you want to build a sturdy business that can pay your mortgage and provide for your family, knowing what your customers want is imperative. Owning and operating a small business is hard work, but if you do things right and treat your customers well, it will benefit you in the long run.