What has happened with customer service these days? I understand the slow turn up of the economic recession has led nearly all companies to do more with less and get used to that, but service has been so greatly affected, that it is negatively impacted business. This is repelling customers away and actually creating more lost time and opportunities for profitability across the board! How could we have let this happen and what can be done about it? Here are two examples from a customer’s point of view that illustrate my point:
Huge Cable Company
Most cable and telecom companies are known for less than great service. This experience takes the cake though. I called my cable company to install a new service line in my house as well as to replace an existing, outdated box. Yes, I wanted to spend more money than my $200/month fee and add another TV to my existing subscription. I was willing to pay, and subsequently accommodate an expected crazy moving service time window of 9 – 3, for a service call. When I called the cable company, I was greeted with the traditional robo-service-rep. I pressed “3” for new service and followed instructions pressing additional buttons on my phone for the next 2 minutes to finally get the response “Due to an a large number of calls, we cannot accept your call at this time. Please hang up and try again later.” “WHAT?” I said to the nonhuman who hung up on me. “Try again later?” “When, later? When I can get another minute away from ‘my’ job?” “I assume when is when it’s more convenient for your ‘automated customer service representative’ and she what–has more time?” “She’s a robot!” I mean, really! No opportunity for voicemail. No opportunity for an FAQ and God forbid, if some live person-any live person-were to at least listen to my issue for someone else to follow up that might have satisfied me for the moment. This experience made absolutely no sense and my blood boil. They couldn’t be any more efficient with an investment in service than an automated voice mail/robo-service-rep to get customers through an FAQ and onto the qualified live person, right? But to have all of that and completely shut down my experience with attention to service, is downright unacceptable. Yes, embarrassingly, I pay $200/month. And, apparently, service is not included in that fee.
I am working with a large university and, collaboratively, we are involved in leveraging a new service for interactive course distribution. One of the largest companies making waves in this space, who just received $22M in funding, has been on our radar. In an effort to gain additional information on how to partner with them (once again, there’s interest here to “spend money,” and even “add value to their business and increase their course catalog”), I was directed to the “Support Center” on their website. Unfortunately, there were no departments for inquiries like mine. “How do they bring on new partners; the bread and butter of their business?” I asked. More significantly, there was no phone number in the support center. No live people apparently. Yet there were global (i.e. corporatexyzcom (corporatexyzcom) ) email addresses to send various inquiries to. “This is a significant deal and, after $22M in funding, you can’t even accept a sales call from a large university?” I angrily continued whispering to myself. So, I sent an inquiry to the wrong email address and did not receive a response until three days later. The email was dismissal and apparently they don’t want to grow their business. Poor customer service and sales.
As small business owners, you (hopefully) understand the value of a sales lead. You cherish bringing on new profitable customers. And, lastly, you realize the importance of servicing those customers well so you can retain them and grow them for many years. It’s the cornerstone of any business, really. Without profitable customer relationships, we all have nothing. So why are large companies falling short on service and even sales? Is it that they’re too large and complacent? Has the recession hit them so hard that they just can’t handle it? Or, do they simply now know any better and/or are not listening to their customers?
Reminder to all businesses –
Your customers have choices!
If you don’t sell to and service them well,
Your competitors will and
You will have no business.
…It’s that simple.
In the spirit of recognizing the obvious, I thought I’d run through some basic sales and service reminders, for the large companies as well as the small ones – just in case anyone has forgotten. So, please excuse me if this seems ‘too basic’ but please give it some thought on how it pertains to your own business. You may be surprised at how you stack up…
- Make it easy for customers to do business with you. Realize how they prefer to communicate with you. Streamline your processes and create efficiencies without losing the personal touch. Test your own systems as if you were a customer yourself. Is it accommodating or frustrating.
- Never say no to a customer. When I used to play solo accordion at a French restaurant (yes, it’s amazing how resourceful we can be with our talents when we’re starting a business) I’d often get the most obscure requests for songs I did not know. I realized it took a lot of effort to simply approach an accordion player, let alone, request a song that was probably near and dear to their heart and would contribute to that evening’s total experience. My immediate response would always be to suggest something similar in an effort to satisfy and not ‘lose’ the customer’s interest. “I don’t know that one but how about if I played this one for you and your date.” Nine times out of ten they were just as pleased and tipped well. I knew that what they really wanted was something custom and specific for them. An alternative was, in that case, “good enough.” Never say no to a customer. Especially if the customer approaches you, they are, most likely, interested in spending money with you. Don’t leave those dollars or the relationship (more importantly) on the table, unless you’ve exhausted all options to help accommodate and satisfy them.
- Be nice. Realize that your customers are people and you need to treat them with respect. Be professional. Smile even when you can’t or don’t want to. What our parents taught us in terms of manners goes a long in accommodating and satisfying customers with sales and service. If you’re too busy or can’t service the customer at that moment, be honest and polite. Provide alternative ways to help them. Clearly illustrate how important they are to you. Each customer is a VIP and should be treated as such. You never know which one is recommending your next career, big sale or whatever else!
- Listen to customers. Take time. Breathe. Make the effort. You have two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak. Survey customers from time to time. Ask important questions. Get your finger on the pulse of their needs, expectations and your deliverables to meet them. Listen to your customers!
- Drop everything to help a customer. Remember lifetime value of customers and the customer P&L. If you lose one customer, you not only lose their immediate sale but the value of sales over their lifetime of doing business with you. It’s much more vital when you look at it in that context. So, drop everything to accommodate your customers. Make it a part of your culture. Accommodate. Satisfy. And, grow your business because of it.
I’m not sure if customer service will ever be at the levels I remember but what I can say is that if we all take basic steps to improve our own and over-deliver with our customers, we will likely have a competitive advantage of the majority of businesses who are not doing that. And, THAT is a differentiator you can take to the bank!
About the Author
Angelo Biasi is General Manager of SMART Marketing Solutions, LLC, a leading full-service integrated marketing company in Florida and New York since 2001. He has helped create and execute marketing plans and integrated marketing solutions for companies such as Playtex, Bic, Rogaine, Tauck, and over 35 colleges and universities, to name a few. Angelo has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Connecticut and teaches Marketing at New York University where he has for over six years. He has been quoted and/or featured in USA Today, Mobile Marketer magazine, Mobile Commerce Daily, Luxury Marketing magazine, BNET TV and Business Currents magazine, to name a few. For more information or to learn more, email him at abiasismartmarketingllccom (abiasismartmarketingllccom) , visit www.smartmarketingllc.com, call him at 239.963.9396 and follow him on Twitter @angbiasi.