Word on the street tells us that the economy is still struggling. Now, if by â€śstreetâ€ť we mean numerous business publications, focus points of political debates and measures, sales and trading reports, and the very loud outcries of citizens struggling to keep or find jobs, we can certainly take said streetâ€™s word for it: the downturn has taken its toll.
In response to reduced financial prosperity, weâ€™re seeing increased customer expectations. Businesses around the globe are responding with increased customer service. Well, at least some of them.
In a 2011 customer service study released by AMEX and Echo, consumers report experiencing retail attitudes towards customer service have not changed. On the contrary, it reports that less than one third of businesses have increased focus on customer service. In addition, the study finds that while about half of businesses across markets simply meet expectations, about 25% miss the mark.
In a spending climate where every dollar means more to shoppers (people, families, mothers), it is those of you who are turning your focus to service that are seeing the highest levels of repeat business. In fact, more than half (in a few countries 75 – 85%) of people said they return to businesses for their purchasing needs after an experience of good customer service. Whatâ€™s more, consumers tend to spend more with those businesses as well, perceiving greater value in these companiesâ€™ products and feeling their business has been earned. If your business is on the other end of the performance spectrum (other, as in bad), the study shows that there are plenty of people who will simply refuse to do business with you again (60% on average).
We know this to be true ourselves, right? For example, we shy away from restaurants with rude waiters, even if their food isÂ great, and will put up with a little burnt toast now and again from a local eatery with stellar, friendly service. We are a relational bunch, after all, and how we are treated is often more important than achieving a product procurement, savings or satiation goal. Of course, your customers (and those of every business on the planet) are no different. Hereâ€™s a run down of the key findings of the study, followed by some applicable action steps to help stay on the happy side of your customerâ€™s choices:
- We believe excellent service is a right, not a value-added justification for a price increase and do not want to pay more for it (thank you very much)
- We want to talk to real people, not recordings, not long stints of hold â€śmusicâ€ť or, heaven help us, advertisements about your brand
- We will think less of your entire brand from just one bad service interaction, just one
- We will switch brands in search of better service faster than you can say â€śpass the cranberry sauceâ€ť
- We will move our business in both brick-and-mortar and online store after bad service – our allegiance is equal via foot or smart phone
- We will come back and spend more than we do if your customer service meets or exceeds our expectations, and weâ€™re happy to
- We may tell friends about a good customer service experience, but we will much more often tell everyone – friends, family, anyone online who will read our status – about a bad one
- Our opinions of brands are shaped strongly by interactions with customers service reps – their perceived patience and treatment of our issue, how well informed they are, how well they resolve our problems and accept our complaints, and the tone of their voice
- We will lose our tempers with non-helpful or downright rude service professionals and especially dislike scripted responses, and we will just hang up and do some of the aforementioned www complaining when weâ€™ve had enough
Not surprising, the study found that consumers surveyed experienced better customer service from small businesses than big ones.
Hereâ€™s where you come in! Whether with help from the data in this study, from your own direct experience, or simply some good old-fashioned common sense, we know that good customer service is good business. So, here are a few ways you can provide not just jolly good, but excellent, great, fantastic customer service this holiday season and beyond:
Tips for Great Retail Customer Service
- Good people provide good service – character and personality translates in person, on the phone and through email – choose your customer service professionals wisely
- These good people will treat others the way they are treated – owners and managers, be good to your customer service professionals; be the enthusiastic, positive, problem-solving resource youâ€™d like them to be
- Know who your customers are, and call them by name at every opportunity – in-store introductions, reading names aloud from credit cards, using names in phone calls and emails, etc. will all help the customer feel seen and appreciated
- Let your customers know who you are so they can call you by name – photos of staff on your website and in retail locations, introducing yourself in-store, always using your name on calls and signing all emails (even newsletters) with a proper sign-off are good ways to maintain a real person presence in the minds of your customers
- Be well-informed top to bottom – make sure your employees know what to do in cases of special requests, complaints, and the like and empower customer service professionals to make exceptions and go the extra mile when possible
- Go the extra mile – honor every special request you can and enforce policy only when truly necessary, and when absolutely necessary, explain why and offer alternatives, and do this all whether or not there is immediate profit in it
Some extra reading to inspire and inform (and maybe laugh a little at the expense of United breaking all those guitars…)
- Businessweek Customer Service Champs 2010
- Mint Blogâ€™s Top Five Viral Customer Service Complaint Videos
- Inc.comâ€™s Best Customer-Service Practices
Looking for online customer service tips? Here are a few articles I think might offer you some sound advice and applicable take-aways:
- Improve Your Online Customer Service from Entrepreneur Magazine Online
- The Six Steps of Good Customer Service from Dream Systems Media
- Service Tips for Sellers: What We Can Learn from Great Service Companies from the Etsy Blog (a look at famously good service providers Zappos, The Container Store, and Amazon.com)