What Customers Want From Customer Service
According to BusinessWeek, the 2009 Customer Service Champs — ranked by reader surveys and J.D. Power research — include Amazon.com at No. 1, followed by USAA, Jaguar, Lexus, The Ritz-Carlton, Publix Super Markets, Zappos.com, Hewlett-Packard, T. Rowe Price, Ace Hardware, KeyBank, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Nordstrom, Cadillac and Amica.
In my part of the world — the Western U.S. — kudos consistently go to Les Schwab Tire Centers, with its trademarked slogan, “If We Can’t Guarantee It, We Won’t Sell It,” and its reputation for staff members who literally run out to greet drivers with the question, “How can we help you today?”
So how does your customer service rate? Here’s what to know to move your own business into the customer service pantheon.
What do customers want?
To start, customers want product value that exceeds the price they’re paying. Next, they want a level of service that rises above their expectations. As proof, two of the top 15 Customer Service Champs are Amazon.com and Zappos.com, both known for discount prices and exceptional service.
What do customers expect from good service?
- To be greeted promptly — whether in person, on the phone or via a quick-loading Web site.
- To have concerns addressed with sensitivity and efficiency — with eye contact if the exchange is person-to-person.
- Clear communication from people who know what they’re talking about.
- Individualized solutions rather than cookie-cutter responses that apply to one and all regardless of unique needs or circumstances.
Bottom line: Customers want to be treated like they’re important and valued.
What drives customers away?
Customers hate waiting. In-store, their wait tolerance is no more than 90 seconds, and it’s even less on the phone. Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy” and “Call of the Mall,” says that after 90 seconds customers distort time, causing them to rate two-minute waits as complete service failures.
So how do you polish your customer service?
Start by assessing your current service level so you’ll know where to make improvements. Ask yourself:
Is our service better than or not as good as it was in the past?
- How does our service compare to that of our competitors?
- What complaints — and what compliments — do we hear frequently?
- How quickly and well do we greet and serve customers?
- How well do we address customer concerns, requests and complaints?
- How do we reward and thank our most frequent, highest-value customers?
Depending on your answers, take these steps:
Create a customer history to establish personal relationships. Record customer names, personal information, product interests and purchase history so you can customize conversations and product suggestions. Imagine how you’d feel about a hotel’s service level if you were asked, “Would you like the same executive suite you requested during your July visit?” instead of the usual, “Have you stayed with us before?”
Reward customers for their individual value to your business. In addition to advertised purchase-reward programs, surprise your best customers with special services, products or no-strings-attached gifts. (Remember, discounts are forms of promotion; gifts are rewards.)
Set and maintain service standards. Whether it’s 30-minute deliveries, same-day alterations, no-questions-asked returns, or lifetime warranties, tell customers what they can expect and stand by your word.
Coddle your customers. Talk with current and past customers to learn their ideas, compliments and concerns. Listen carefully to complaints and take whatever action is necessary to right the wrong. In customer service, the rule is this: Fix the customer and then fix the problem.
Make customer service a core business value. Know and reward customers for their unique value to your business and empower your staff to do the same. Anticipate needs. Communicate sincerely and often. Encourage input. Bend rules. Provide extra services and surprises to your best customers. Make dealing with your business a highlight of your customer’s day.
Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small business strategist, the author of "Small Business Marketing for Dummies" and "Selling Your Business for Dummies," and the co-author of "Branding for Dummies and Business Plan Kit for Dummies."