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The New Entrepreneur: Customer Service

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So you’ve sorted your marketing and sales strategies, and are drumming up business. But how do you keep customers coming back, or at least keep them happy? You relationship with your customers doesn’t end with a sale or when a contract is signed. In order to give a good overall impression of your business and to keep customers coming back, you are going to need excellent customer service.

Efficiency
Customer service is efficiency, and this starts from before a sale is made. You (and any employees you have) need to be able to answer any customer questions, refer them to the product or service that best suits their needs, carry out any transactions quickly with the minimum of fuss, and address any post-sales issues in a manner that is best suited to the customer, rather than yourself. This goes above and beyond the basic need to be polite and courteous, but a higher level of service is what will keep customers coming back to you.

After-Sales
The level of service you provide after you make a sale is also important, as it will add to the image your customer has of you. For instance, my local computer store will not only deliver anything you buy, but will also install it for you and get everything up and running. Now, I don’t use them for a variety of reasons, but I can understand the appeal of such a service for other consumers. You don’t necessarily need to do the same thing, but the key is to make sure the dealings you have with your customers are as painless for them as possible.

Look at your business and examine how you can make all stages of your sales process as “servicey” as possible. This is one of the times where, rather than focusing on the best thing for the business, it should be all about the customer, their wants and needs, and how you can fulfil them. Imagine that you were dealing with your business. What would you want from it? What kind of service that competing firms don’t provide are you able to offer?

Customer Service Systems
Regardless of how many people are going to be employed by your business, all customer queries and complaints should go to one central point, so that any issues that need to be followed up can be tracked and are not subject to the disparate priorities of different people. Keep customers informed of what is being done, and be honest; if there is one thing likely to annoy customers, it’s being lied to.

When dealing with complaints, don’t prevaricate or try to put the customer off: escalate the complaint immediately. The bane of my life is dealing with call centre staff who inform me that they are unable to take any action because they don’t have the authority to do so. Not only that, but it does not seem to occur to them to put me in touch with somebody who can deal with me. If a customer complains, they should be able to talk to the most senior person available, who will be able to solve their problem. This is also a psychological trick: people like talking to important people, as this makes them feel important themselves. If they feel that you are treating their complaint seriously, any loss to your reputation is likely to be minimal.

Having said this, customer service is not, despite the maxim, about the customer always being right. There are some customers who will never be happy, who will make unrealistic demands, who may make frivolous complaints in the hope of getting a freebie. If you have conducted your business honestly, you will be able to spot these when they appear. Be polite, be courteous, but don’t be afraid to stand your ground. Professional troublemakers do exist, and you may have the misfortune to encounter them, but if their claims are baseless, you have nothing to worry about.

Rather than marketing, it is customer service that will build your reputation. Get it right, and word-of-mouth will bring in new customers, while existing customers will keep coming back. Get it wrong, and you could find your business in trouble, whether or not yours is the best or cheapest product or service in the market.

[Image by KM & G-Morris]

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