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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

15 Easy Ways to Grow Your Business Through Customer Service

by Shel Horowitz

"My father installed garage door openers. He was so customer-driven that my mother would come home, push the button, and nothing would happen" - because dad had uninstalled their opener to replace a customer's defective ones.

With that introduction, Kathy Caulton highlighted the importance of customer service: only 5% of companies offer excellent customer service - yet 68% of customers leave a merchant because they perceive an attitude of indifference. She presented 15 easy, cheap customer service keys at the Family Business Center's June gathering.

  1. Make a good first impression Monitor your company's phone manner and in-person attitude. Act like you're glad to see customers. "There are some places where staff don't even turn around when you walk in."
  2. Follow-up. "How many of you are waving your credit card, saying 'I want to do business,' and they don't call you back? When you return phone calls you stick out like a sore thumb. Follow up after a problem. It takes 30 seconds to five minutes. My vet called to see how my dog was reacting to medication. I had major surgery and no one called me!" Caulton cited a local real estate sales agent who was top performer eight years in a row; she works only 40 hours a week and has kids. "'I follow up and I pay attention to details.'"
  3. Treat your co-workers as valued customers. "Whatever service they receive internally, it will ooze out to your customers. It pays back time and time again."
  4. Have systems in place for customers. Have pens where people can use them - don't chain them down. If you don't have an item, provide the number of the vendor who does. Have a portable headset phone so people can access the resource. Include your operating hours on after-hours phone messages
  5. Use other people's ideas (including line workers). "'We've always done it that way' is not a good enough answer." Caulton cited several "life-changing" books, including 1001 Retail Ideas, 50 Ways to Win New Customers, and this author's Marketing Without Megabucks.
  6. Listen to customer complaints and do something about them. "Know your customers' annoyances. At Johnson's Bookstore in Springfield, the Johnsons all carried around 3x5 cards. Every time a customer asked, 'do you have...', they'd pull out a card and start scrawling down on it. Get their name, follow through. The customer comes in, sees the item, and 'ooh!' Maybe they'll give you more ideas." Front line employees should "feel like they own the place" - they will be much more responsive. It may be a product you never thought to carry, but you've had three requests. If you hear a complaint twice, do something about it.
  7. Remember Miracle on 34th Street Zig Ziglar says you can get anything you want if you help others get what they want. If there's a discount, give it without the coupon.
  8. Calculate the cost of customers It costs much more to acquire a new customer than to retain an exiting one. Show your existing customers gratitude. Write hand-written thank you notes, notice their name in the paper. Don't lose a customer over a $5 issue!
  9. Communicate (internally and externally). Document where things are and what you keep in your mind.
  10. Keep your promises. The best product or the best service isn't enough - you need good service AND good products.
  11. Provide added value service. What do you do to make people go "oooh!" Give staff permission to go the extra mile.
  12. Remember what your mother told you. 55% of any face-to-face message is body language and 38% tone of voice (over the. phone, 87% is tone of voice). So your tone and gestures should reinforce the message you want to convey.
  13. Polish your phone skills. Avoid voicemail hell, simultaneous conversations, typing, "let me get rid of this other call." One hospital receptionist asks, "Is this an emergency or are you able to hold?"
  14. Give an upset customer the benefit of the doubt. "If people act as if the world is coming to an end, maybe for them, it is. Sometimes I'll even ask, 'are you OK?' - and the responses are amazing."
  15. Develop a sense of urgency.

"Hot leads become lukewarm very quickly. When you have a sense of urgency, people trust you - they know you'll do what you said. Will Rogers said, 'Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.'"

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