Exemplary customer service is crucial to the success of all businesses.
But what exactly is exemplary customer service?
Here’s an example of what it isn’t.
It involves an unusual encounter I had with the cashier at my favorite pastry shop. I selected a few goodies to buy and placed the items on the counter. The cashier neglected to look in my direction or even say anything. She packed my items in a bag and then rang up my total. She stood there saying nothing, leaving it up to me to look at the cash register to see out how much I owed.
I handed her my money and she returned my change by putting it down on the counter. Then, she walked away and got busy wiping down the display case.
During the time that I was in the shop, this employee did not utter one word. No hello. No thank you. No good-bye.
Now compare my negative customer experience with that of my friend. She, while shopping at a clothing store, was acknowledged and served by a smiling, delightful sales associate who exuded tons of charm.
At the end of the transaction, rather than handing the gift bag across the counter as so many associates do, this associate did something different. She walked outside of the checkout desk, around the counter, and handed the shopping bag directly to my friend.
That was customer service excellence!
It was also a memorable experience.
Today, I’d like to cover several ways that small business owners and their employees can win over customers by providing exemplary customer service. These methods work well for brick-and-mortar businesses, and for online customer service.
Not long ago, I worked as a sales associate in a major department store. So, I remember a few things about customer service skills. And, although major department stores and small businesses operate differently, the highest priority for both should be good customer service.
Here are some quality standards that I learned as an associate—standards that can also be used by any small business:
Train Your Employees Well
The cashier in the earlier example was obviously trained to handle a cash register and do light housekeeping. Unfortunately, her customer service skills were lacking, unlike that of the sales associate.
Greet every customer warmly in person
A polite “Good morning, madam,” or “How may I help you today?” is ideal. Avoid saying “Hi” and “Can I help you?”
Phone calls work the same way. “Good morning, XYZ Company, my name is Susan, how may I help you?”
Avoid saying “XYZ Company, Susan speaking.”
Make eye contact
Making eye contact shows that you have acknowledged the customer and have given them your attention.
Let’s say a customer wants a particular brand or item that you don’t carry. Or perhaps they want an item that is sold out. What do you do?
First, never tell them that you don’t carry that brand or that ‘we sold out’ and leave it at that.
For items that have ‘sold out,’ take the customer’s contact information so that they can be notified when the items are restocked.
Further, don’t try to re-educate the customer or try to teach them a lesson. If you do, your customers might possibly take their business elsewhere.
Close Your Transactions Properly
Avoid being too quick to move off to serve the next customer in line. Engage with the active paying customer for a mere few seconds before they are ready to leave the checkout area.
Leave the Attitude at Home
It goes without saying that rudeness shouldn’t be tolerated. Customers should not have to deal with unacceptable behavior from testy front-line employees.
Small business owners should also note that consumers will gladly pay more for better services. According to Business News Daily:
Seven in ten Americans are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.
Know What is Important to Your Customers
You can learn what is important to your customers if you gauge customer satisfaction. Using small business customer-service tools like Facebook, Twitter, and online surveys, helps you tap in to what policies customers’ value. Some of these values could be:
- Product selection.
- Employees’ expertise in solving problems.
- Courteous employees.
- Waiting time to be served.
- 100% guarantee of satisfaction.
- Rewards and loyalty programs.
What Small Business Owners Can Learn from Apple
Tech giant, Apple, does more than build amazing products. They also offer something else just as outstanding—that is, customer service.
Source: Rob Boudon
Dedicated Apple fans already know about Apple’s unique customer service.
But, if you’re not familiar with Apple, you’re in for a surprise.
For example, you damaged your iPhone 4S and you can’t find the receipt. And sure enough, the warranty has expired. What could Apple do for you? They might offer you a brand new iPhone for less than $200 – the retail price is $599. Or, Apple may repair the item free of charge (sometimes). Whatever, the result, Apple will find a solution that you’re happy with.
Certainly, your small business may lack the resources or funds to fix or replace items for free. But what is key is the notion of bending over backwards to satisfy the customer.
Apple is obviously not a small business. But, the company is notorious for having employees that delivers very high customer satisfaction.
The young and hip sales team must present themselves as:
For your small business, what additional qualities would you like your team to have?
Think Like Zappos
What can we say about Zappos?
It is true that this friendly online retailer sells amazing shoes and apparel. Yet, it is Zappos’ customer service approach that garners so much attention. Some people call Zappos’ policies and company culture crazy, but in a good way.
Here’s what you can expect with Zappos:
- Complaints are welcomed rather than frowned on.
- The call center team has no ‘call time limits’. You can talk to an operator for 3 hours without being cut off or rushed off the phone.
- An intense four-week customer service training-program for new employees.
- Shipping costs are prepaid by Zappos. No minimum order required.
- Loyal customers are rewarded with upgraded overnight shipping.
- Free return shipping—no fine print, and no hassles.
On the subject of returns, Zappos director of customer loyalty Rob Siefker offers more insight:
Returns are part of our business model. In fact, we encourage customers to order multiple sizes if they’re unsure of what to order, and then they can return the size that doesn’t work for them.
To get a peak into Zappos’ philosophy and commitment to service, have a look at Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh’s New York Times best-selling book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.
Thank You’s and Coconut Snowballs
Little touches matter…
…so do two little words, thank you.
In my case, I frequently order hair products from an online solopreneur. While I don’t get coconut snowballs, included with every order she sends are:
- hair care tips.
- upcoming offers.
- a big thank you for supporting her online business.
What would you offer your customers?
How would you show appreciation—a handwritten note, a follow-up email after a sale, or something else?
Finally, I’ve shown you some WOW examples of exemplary customer service that can benefit your small business. My best advice is this: study the examples from this post, borrow from the best, create your own quality standards, and use these tools to deliver that memorable experience for your customers that keeps them coming back.
About Michelle Gail
Michelle Gail blogs about women’s issues, news, and trends. She invites you to visit her blog at www.meanttosoar.com, or connect on twitter @michellemgail.