I know, I know; businesses are in love with their products. Especially new technology. The new product development people squeal with delight when they create something new and exciting, and they scurry over to executive row, where the honchos are sufficiently dazzled. The marketing folks are chomping at the bit to tell the world about this great new thing. And the sales people can not wait to call their top accounts to offer them a new kind of widget. New products are the lifeblood of commerce, right?
Not so fast. A recent customer service survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Verint Systems indicated that 88% of consumers prefer dealing with a company with strong customer service than one with the hottest, most innovative product offerings. Only 12% preferred dealing with a company with a hot, innovative product.
Another study from Michaelson & Associates reported that 69% of customers that leave one business for another do so because of real or perceived poor service. The quality of product is a distant second, at 13%.
These simple facts speak volumes about the significance of customer service. To your customers, service is more important than product. Think about that, and really let it sink in.
It used to be that organizations viewed their customer service or customer support as an expense; it was part of the cost of doing business. These days, as service and support have become key differentiators in business, it is easy to spot the organizations that have not evolved past the idea of service as an expense. They’re the ones who treat customer interactions like a job or a competition, rather than as an opportunity. They read from scripts. They quote company policy. They may hear the customer talking, but they are not listening to him.
Because of ongoing technology development, demographic shifts in customer bases, enhanced commercial awareness, and expanded capabilities, there is no room for mediocrity in business anymore. A quality product or service, and dependable turnaround and delivery are no longer cause for celebration; they are now simply the baseline for doing business. The average consumer can get what he needs through any number of channels. Why should he choose you over all the other choices?
Customers will choose to do business with you because you provide a better all-around customer experience. Here are five things you do to provide that better experience:
• Your initial greeting, whether in person, on the phone, on email or chat, is always prompt, genuinely pleasant and sincere. Smiles are not a big expense, and they go a long way in business. You use that positive first impression as a springboard to developing a real dialogue with your customer
• Doing business with you is a smooth process. You have well-thought-out options for customers to contact you, to consult or place an order, for delivering what was ordered, and for invoicing & receiving payment.
Yes, this sounds nice and easy, summed up in one paragraph. But you know the challenges of establishing processes, tweaking them, training people, managing the execution of the processes. And you know how important that is to your customers. If creating smooth business processes was easy, then everyone would have them. But no, it is businesses like yours that get it, that are the exceptions that prove this rule.
• You’ve established trust. While this is not easy to do in your first interaction with a customer, you realize that the building of trust begins with that first contact, and grows exponentially with each subsequent positive experience. Real trust is built like a building, from the ground up, with a strong foundation.
• You are friendly to every customer with whom you interact, but your level of friendliness is appropriate for each customer’s mood. You understand that there are few things more annoying than an overzealous and peppy salesperson or service rep when the customer is tired or in a bad mood or even just quiet and reserved. Conversely, you know that an upbeat, chatty customer who is met with indifference, or rudeness, will most likely be seeking a more enthusiastic environment for their next bit of business. You appreciate that the customer is a guest in your “house,” and you must be a gracious host.
• You are attentive, without being annoying. You know customers have varied and individual styles. Some like to lurk in the background, quietly scoping things out on their own. Others trot right in, seeking assistance. You understand that the lurkers need to know that you know they are there, but that you will not pursue them and badger them with offers and suggestions. You know that a courteous greeting and an offer to help if needed allows the customer to determine the extent of his interaction with you, and that makes for a comfortable experience for all types of customers and prospects.
This is why your business is successful. You understand that the service you provide will remain in the customer’s mind long after the product he’s purchased has run its course. Repeat business is born out of relationships, not flavor-of-the-month products.