Customer Service Improves Sales

Henry Ford said ‘The only foundation of real business is service’. In many companies, the customer service function sits outside of the sales channel as it is seen in some way inferior to sales. Yet customer service is integral to sales success. Without good customer service there will be no repeat sales, and repeat sales are the most profitable revenue any company can generate.

The selling process is not complete merely because the customer has stated that he or she will buy your products or services. Throughout the entire selling process, the maintenance of goodwill is important, but even more so after the purchase. Regardless of your customer’s previous feeling towards your company, the experience they have after they have bought will have a significant impact on future sales. Customer service doesn’t complete the sale; it reignites the sales cycle. A worthwhile maxim to adopt is: ‘a customer cannot be regarded as satisfied until we get their next order.’

Whilst customer service represents the last element in many standard sales processes it could also be argued that it is the first element in a recurring sales process. Ask yourself:

Did I ensure that the agreements reached with the customer actually happened?
Did I attempt to up-sell?
Did I ask for a referral?
What records are kept and maintained?
What feedback did I get about how the customer benefited from my product/ service?
How could customer service be improved?

Why Is Customer Service Important?

There are a number of empirical studies on the value of customer service and the effect of repeat business on the bottom line. Frederick Reicheld and Earl Sasser said that ‘if companies knew how much it really costs to lose a customer, they would be able to make accurate evaluations of investments designed to retain customers’. They found that customers become more profitable over time as increased sales; reduced costs of distribution; referrals; and the opportunity to up-sell all add to the bottom line.

Heskett, Sasser, and Scheslinger collaborated on a training programme to assist managers in understanding the lifetime value of customers and in addition advised on the importance of developing a culture whereby employees are engaged to contribute to the value chain. They postulated that employee satisfaction leads to service value which produces customer satisfaction and which in turn results in profits and growth. It is hardly surprising that happen employees produce happy customers.

What is Customer Service?

Is it just about smiling and being nice to customers? It’s a good place to start but it can’t just be about that.

It is generally accepted that it is very difficult to deliver high standards of customer service. Some say we have not been educated for it – it is not our tradition. This observation is often justified by stating that since late Victorian and early Edwardian times fewer and fewer people have worked in ‘service’. What was a major employment sector in those days has now dwindled to almost nothing.

While this has happened, employment has increased in manufacturing, sales, administration, information technology, and social sciences. Through the years ‘working in service’ came to be regarded as a dead end job that nobody wanted and would only take as a last resort. As a result, the label ‘service’ has almost fallen into disrepute, and many people see giving service as something beneath them that lesser mortals do.

However, the truth is that everybody likes and appreciates good service.

Difference between Good & Poor Service
An often quoted but unattributed statistic is that where people have been asked the question – ‘what would you say was the main difference between somewhere where you received good service and somewhere you received poor service’ – in 70 percent of cases the response has been – ‘the attitude and behaviour of the person delivering the service’. Whether true or not, it seems probable that if we receive poor service from somewhere we are unlikely to buy from that source again.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that good customer service does not involve the quality of the product (unless you have advertised a product as being something it is not) but the quality of the people delivering the product or service, and the experience the customer has of buying your product or service.

It is also reasonable to assume that you yourself know the difference between good and poor service and can put yourself in the customer’s shoes when buying your product or service.

It should be relatively easy to establish a list of thing you have purchased in the last couple of months and determine whether the experience you had of buying was good, bad or indifferent. Obviously a lot of buying and selling these days happens without the interaction of people (e.g. buying on the web) and for the purposes of this exercise perhaps you should record those activities separately. Although it might appear simple, an appraisal of your own experience, coupled with putting yourself in the customer’s shoes should provide you with a wealth of information regarding the difference between good and poor service.

Analysing Good Customer Service

Ask the customer

A simple yet highly effective way of establishing the quality of your customer service is to ask the customer. Attached is an example of a customer service questionnaire used in a car distributor showroom (customer service questionnaire).

Standards

You might check out the set of customer service standards as determined by the Institute of Customer Service. In 2007 they conducted some research into what they believe customers wanted. The top ten responses were as follows:

Overall quality of the products/ service
Friendliness of staff
Handling of problems and complaints
Speed of service
Helpfulness of staff
Handling enquiries
Being treated as a valued customer
Competence of staff
Ease of doing business
Being kept informed

Management

In 2004 the Institute of Leadership published the results of a survey with staff regarding the reasons for poor customer service. The top four reasons given were:

60% of staff believe that the main contributing factor contributing to poor customer service was bad line management
45% claim that their relationship with their line manager impacted significantly on the service they provide to the customer
60% felt they were not praised enough for good customer service, and
10% said they never receive any praise for a job well done

Definition

I have defined customer service as being:

A set of business behaviours which seek to provide superior service to existing and prospective customers; build customer loyalty and repeat business; and influence the acquisition of new customers.

The Follow-up of a Sale

A major life insurance company revealed that in nearly 60% of all life insurance lapses, the policy terminated after the second premium payment. The same company pointed out that after a policyholder makes four premium payments, lapses are negligible. The significance of these statistics is that customers must remain convinced that their buying decisions were correct or repeat purchases are likely to stop. You, through the final step in the selling process – the follow up – can influence the satisfaction your customers derive from their purchases.

Consider one of your customers whose purchases have been poor during the past year and are not likely to increase significantly in the future. Also assume that you have one highly profitable account whose purchases amount to nearly 25% of the total volume of your business. What sort of follow-up and service should you provide to each? Naturally the larger, more profitable account would probably receive greater attention on your part.

For all customers, you should analyse how extensive your follow-up should be. For most accounts, an occasional email, letter or telephone call should suffice. For more active customers you might need to make in-person calls every week or so. Customers who have made or are likely to make large purchases at some time in the future certainly deserve the best personal service you can provide.

Many salespeople are fond of quoting the Pareto Principle in regard to sales, saying that around 80% of their customers provide them with only about 20% of the total sales volume in their territories. Conversely, about 80% of total sales volume comes from only 20% of their customers.

Your principal responsibility as a salesperson is to sell products or services profitably. This should be your rule of thumb when servicing accounts. Your time is limited, but time spent with customers is often an investment in greater sales and future profits. Even accounts that are semi-active or lacking in potential might become high volume purchasers if service and follow-up activities can improve their attitudes toward you and your company.

Follow-up activities vary substantially by industry and product. At one extreme, it is unlikely that a Scout selling raffle tickets house to house during his annual fundraising will make any follow-up calls during the year. On the other hand, a retail merchant buying household products for re-sale may require regular assistance from their supplier such as inventory maintenance, merchandise displays, and co-operative advertising programmes that can be part of the follow-up. Even the Scout group will need to deliver the prizes and should publish a list of winners.

Ideas for Follow-up

Thank you communication

You are far more likely to get repeat orders if you develop an amicable relationship with your customers. Any activity that helps to cement this relationship, from a simple ‘thank you’ to hand delivering a substantial order, can benefit both you and your customer. A simple goodwill builder, but one far too frequently overlooked, is sending a thank you letter, card, or email soon after a sales call has been made.

You can develop a few formats and then modify to suit each specific customer and specific occasions such as moving to new premises, or even more personal such as birthdays or recovering from accident/illness. The cost and the time expended are minimal compared to the goodwill that a ‘thank you’ can create.

After-Sales Service & Assistance

Even if the product is not delivered in person, a telephone call or an in-person visit may enable you to help your customer with the proper use of your products. Customers who do not know how to use a purchase may blame you or the product for their frustrations and problems. Besides instructing your customers on the proper use of your products, you may also be able to point out additional uses for the items. Sometimes there may be minor repairs or adjustments resulting from faulty installation that you can correct or arrange service for. In some cases, you may create goodwill just by checking with customers to make certain that their orders were fulfilled and delivered as directed on purchase orders. You might find some of these suggestions regarding follow-up activities useful:

Make a follow-up ‘goodwill building’ visit to your customers within a week after delivery of the product to make certain that the order was fulfilled properly.
Make certain that the product is satisfactory and is being used properly.
Offer suggestions to the customer on ways to make more effective or additional use of the product.
Use the follow-up visit as an opportunity to obtain new prospects i.e. ask for referrals.
Handle any complaints or misunderstandings as soon as possible and with a positive and courteous attitude.

When you make in-person follow up visits, be sure they are not ‘waste-of-time calls’. Before making the call, ask yourself ‘How is my customer likely to benefit from this call? What do I want to achieve?’

Personal delivery

In some instances, you might be able to develop more satisfied customers by delivering your product in person. For example, life insurance agents frequently deliver policies in-person as soon as the contract is prepared and returned from head office. Five major reasons for this type of in-person delivery are:

To review the features of the policy
To reassure the client that a wise purchase was made
To remind the client when the next premium is due in order to make the sale stay solid
To promote the sale of additional life insurance in the future
To solicit referred leads.

There is a double reason for after-sale selling. Firstly, the existing buyer is, and always has been, a great referral source. Secondly, some sort of professional friendship is developed which can be a future useful testimonial to a new prospective customer.

Goodwill

Goodwill is a factor related to customer attitudes and sentiments toward you and your company. The loss of goodwill is, in effect, the loss of sales. Goodwill building is not automatic. It requires a deliberate, conscientious, and sincere concern about customer interests and needs over extended periods of time. Virtually every step in the selling process has an influence on goodwill.

Goodwill is not concrete – you cannot put your finger on it or measure it accurately in currency. Nevertheless, goodwill is of significant value since it helps the salesperson in making initial and repeat sales. Furthermore, customers with favourable attitudes towards your company and its products are also excellent sources of referral business.

Keeping Customers Satisfied and Staying Competitive

Getting a prospect to place an order and become a customer is long and arduous. Although the search for prospects to turn into new customers never stops, you should also never stop building good relationships with your present customers. They deserve your follow-up so that they will receive the products or services ordered. A commitment to service is required to keep your present customers buying from you. It is service that builds goodwill. In competitive markets it is not products that are different; it is the after sales service provided that makes the difference.

The Importance of Developing Enthusiastic Customers

Enthusiastic customers are one of your best sources of prospects because they are excited about what they buy and want to share that excitement with others. Because of our natural reserve, that is not something we do lightly, so we always take notice if a colleague or friend speaks highly of a company.

If you deliver what customers want at a fair price, without any problems, they are should be satisfied. Although that is better than being dissatisfied, you need more than this to ensure keeping the customer and increasing sales. You have to develop customer enthusiasm about your products and services. You must deliver more than the customer expects. This breeds enthusiasm, which produces a climate that ensures loyalty and increased sales and recommendations to others. Here are some suggestions for producing and maintaining enthusiastic customers:

Keep in touch: check after delivery to see that things are going well. Check again later and ask for leads on new prospects.
Handle any complaints promptly: problems are inevitable. Do not ignore them. They grow with neglect. Do more than the customer expects in satisfying the complaint.
Be a friend: think of the customer as a friend and do things for them accordingly. Send birthday cards or postcards while you are on holidays. Congratulate him or her on awards or advancement.
Give praise when it is due: look for things for which you can give legitimate praise: something the firm has done awards, increased earnings, and a big order. Congratulate the customer personally for awards, election to an office, and honours. Customers appreciate attention too.
Send prospects to your customers: if your customers are in business, send leads or refer prospects to them. It is human nature to respond in kind to anyone who does us a favour.

The Competition

Learn as much as you can about the competition’s products and services. Study how they bring their products to market, their policies, their pricing levels or strategies, the markets they serve, and their customers. Use this information to carry out a SWOT Analysis described elsewhere in this book.

List the strong selling points of your competitors and next to each list a similar or better customer benefit from your own product or service. Don’t assume that every prospect or customer of yours knows your competitors’ strong points. Emphasise your own customer benefits during the sales call. Don’t mention, or sell, your competitors.

Analyse why prospects or customers are buying from competitors and prepare a detailed plan to convince them that they should be buying from you.

Continually review and reinforce the reasons why your customers are doing business with you.

Continually strive to build a close relationship with your customers so they can be more dependent on you.

Earn the right to ask for more orders based on your commitment to service. Remember: your best customers are probably your competitors’ best prospects. Keep working to keep them satisfied and buying from you.

A competitor’s customers are loyal and satisfied because the products or services they receive fit their organisation and requirements now. These conditions can and do change so customer satisfaction is relative.

Becoming a Preferred Supplier

When competing against established suppliers, you may first have to get on the list of acceptable suppliers. To do so this you must create awareness and then an interest and desire for your products or services.

Consider sending copies of advertisements, newspaper articles, or trade journal reports in which you and/ or your company appears, to your customer. Use testimonial letters and recommendations. This will alert your customer to your acceptance by other companies in the same or similar activities.

Invite members of the customer’s firm to visit your plant, your headquarters, your offices, customer installations, or trade shows.

Suggest that their present suppliers are quoting a fair price; however, with new products and services continually being introduced, inflation, improved efficiency, higher productivity, maybe you can do better.

Ask for a copy of their bid specifications and requirements so you can prepare a proposal and quotation for their review and evaluation.

Suggest that they can determine whether or not what you have proposed will give them more value for money. Offer them:

trial orders
sample equipment
thirty day service evaluation period
money back guarantees

These are all part of what it may take for you to become an acceptable supplier. Your creativity as a sales professional will be really challenged by thinking of ways and means to become an acceptable supplier to prospects that are apparently satisfied by their present suppliers.

Complaints

‘We don’t have problems, we have opportunities.’ A cliché, but very true in the case of complaints. It has been estimated that only one in twenty customers complain when they get bad service. The vast majority just go elsewhere! Worse still, the average person tells nine people about the bad service they received. They tell everyone but you. A complaint is an opportunity in identifying ways of improving your services and hence the goodwill of your customers.

Most of us do not like criticism. Therefore, when people complain to us, whether it is face to face or not we try to defend ourselves. Even if the complaint is directed personally towards us, which it rarely is. In doing so we sometimes resort to attack, only making the situation worse.

The best way to deal with complaints is to: -

Acknowledge the complaint
Listen carefully for information
Do not defend or excuse
Empathise with the caller
Promise to put investigate it
Promise to call back is necessary and do so

All the customer wants to know is: -

That you fully understand their problem
What you are going to do about it

If you deal with people in this way, there is no reason why every communication of this kind should not result in both parties being satisfied.

This positive result is not necessarily dependent upon the issue being fully resolved it is dependent upon responsive and responsible communication.

Remember, when a customer complains, they are giving you a second chance to put it right

When the complaint is received over the telephone:

Note down the facts.
Summarise your understanding of the facts back to the customer to ensure clarity.
Phone the customer back when you said you would.
If you have not solved the problem by this time, give a progress report.

Agree a common method for handling complaints in your organisation. Include procedures for complaints that are face to face, by ‘phone and by letter/email. Draw up a complaints form. It should include:

Date and time received.
Who received it?
Department.
The details of the customer: name address, telephone number. Make sure that it meets data protection standards on keeping the information (every organisation should have this as a written procedure and ensure that everyone is aware of this).
Complaint details.
The nature of the complaint.
Action to be taken and deadline.
Sign off when dealt with, and where appropriate signature of line manager.
Build into the process a method for building customer relationships by getting in touch with the customer two weeks after the complaint has been dealt with to confirm that the complaint was dealt with satisfactorily.

Staff need to ensure that they:

Don’t take complaints personally or be defensive; this isn’t an attack on their competence.
Take responsibility and ownership on behalf of the organisation and explain to the customer that they will do their best to sort it out.
understand that bad news spreads
don’t get drawn into an argument
remain calm and professional

The rule for complaints
A complaint is a customer communicating their dissatisfaction at the service or product that we have provided, it is an important message that tells us where we are going wrong and gives us vital information about our customer’s wants, needs and expectations. You can’t buy this information!

Regaining Lost Customers

All organisations lose customers, some for very genuine reasons such as relocation or closure. Sometimes though, they go either because we do something wrong or a competitor makes a better offer. After losing a customer to a competitor ask yourself:

‘What can I do to get this customer back’?
‘What has to be done to assure myself I do not lose more customers for similar reasons’?

Prepare a list of all the things that could have gone wrong with the account. Next, set up a convenient meeting with your former customer for a frank discussion so you can clarify the position. Consider key areas such as price, delivery, proper handling of warranties or guarantees, and service calls

How to provide Superior Customer Service

As many of you know, I have made it my mission to change the world’s view point of customer service. Too many people today have just accepted the fact that no matter where they go, they will receive less than acceptable customer service. THAT’S NOT ACCEPTABLE!

When we work so hard for the money we have, why spend it at a business establishment (no matter what type of business) that provides you less than superior customer service? Does it really make sense to hand your money over that way? Still not clear… okay, let me present this to you in another way. You go to a restaurant and ask for a steak. The waitress brings you out a piece of chicken. You shrug your shoulders and say, “okay, that’s fine.” Furthermore, you eat the chicken and still leave the waitress a tip…would you really accept that? No, of course not! But that is the type of unacceptable customer service we are receiving in other places of business and just nodding our heads, and saying okay! STOP THE MADNESS PEOPLE!

For all you customers out there (which means everyone), it is time to reclaim your God given right to receive Great Customer Service. It’s called Free Will people, and I’m going to use my free will to change the world’s view on customer service. One of the ways I plan on doing this is by refusing to do business anywhere that I receive poor customer service. Are you willing to help me in this mission? All you have to do is this: stop doing business in places that don’t appreciate your business. And, let them know that you are no longer going to do business there and why. Sometimes business owners or managers do not know there is a problem until you let them know, so make sure you tell them. Once we start changing our views on what we accept as customer service, the businesses will adapt to start pleasing us better. It makes sense, doesn’t it!

As for all of you employees and employers out there, there are certain steps you can take to make sure your customers receive the best customer service around. And, when you start providing that type of customer service, your customers will keep coming back for more. In fact, if you provide them with the best service they can get anywhere and with a little flair, they will come back more often because they can’t get enough of it.

So, what are the steps? Follow these certain steps to assure your customers will be coming back for more: (I have broken this down into two stages. One for employers and one for employees please read both!)

Employers

Provide training to your employees on how to treat your customers. If you are unsure of how this should be done, please visit my blog at what-customer-service.blogspot.com and email me and I will set up a training class for you. Think of it this way… what do your customers’ expect to get from your business. This is obviously different for every business and also depends on the type of business you have. But put yourself in your customer’s shoes…If you were the customer, what would you expect to see in terms of customer service? Once you have clearly defined that, you can then train the employees on how to provide it.
Set the standards high for your employees and make sure they stick to it. However, don’t just use this as a tool to “write up” or “fire” your employees. Let me be clear… if you have an employee who you need to fire then by all means do so. But I don’t believe in the type of management that only uses negative reinforcement. I believe that you should also use positive reinforcement with your employees as well. In fact, you’ll find that the more positive reinforcement you use, the more you’ll get out of your employees. Don’t use fear management. It breeds negativity and bad morale and eventually your customers can feel and sense it. This will only further lead to poor customer service.
Having Mystery shops of your business is a great way to find out how your employees are doing. Now, having said this again I go back to my last point, do not use this as a fear management tactic. I have worked for a business that did this and believe me it only breeds negativity and poor morale and again only leads to poor customer service because the customers sense the tension with your employee. Now, if you do not know what mystery shopping is, let me clear it up for you. Mystery shopping is where you have someone pose as a customer or potential customer to see what kind of customer experience they receive when they come to your business. Again, the standards that are in place all depend on your type of business and what you have trained your employees to provide to the customer. Obviously if you haven’t trained them yet, do not do this until you have. Now, mystery shopping can be done in several ways. You can hire a company to do this for you. You provide the company with the criteria that your employees should meet and what you want the mystery customer to do and say. Then, they will hire a mystery shopper to come in posing as the customer and the mystery shopper will report back to the company you hired on how your employee did with full details on each of the criteria and an overall grade. The company then gives you the details on the mystery shop. It is a great way to test your customer’s overall experience and further train your employees. Now, a few things I recommend. Do not tell your employees that you are doing this. If they know, they will be nervous and treat your customers differently. It is more natural if you just have them doing what they always do to grade the normal customer experience. Once you have received the feed back, use it as a training tool for not just that employee but all of them so everyone is on the same level. And reward the employee for a job well done. If you don’t want to hire a company to do the mystery shopping, you can ask a friend or family member to pose as the customer and grade the experience. Or, survey your customers on how well they thought their overall experience was, what they liked about it, what they didn’t like about it, and what they thought you could do differently!
Lastly, and I can’t stress this enough, the only way to provide great customer service is to have a customer service standard, have a plan on how your employees will deliver your standards, and test the standards. Also, pay your employees what they deserve and provide them rewards for going the extra mile. If your employees are making minimum wage and not getting any incentive to “go the extra mile”, then you won’t get anything extra from them and neither will your customers. Your employees are the face of your business. The service your business receives comes directly from your employees, so make sure your employees are getting a fair deal.

Employees

First of all, when you are working with customers, no matter what your occupation, think of it this way…How would you want to be treated if you were that client?
If you are unhappy about your current job, don’t take it out on the customer. Remember, it is not their fault that you are unhappy with your job and it’s not their fault that you’re in the situation you are in, whatever it may be. Again, remember, what would you expect if you were the customer?
When talking with a client, first of all, smile! Say Hello, how can I help you? If you are not behind a counter of some kind, shake their hand, introduce yourself and ask their name. Then, ask them how you can be of assistance.
If your employer has a standard for customer service, make sure you know what it is and abide by it. And, at the end of the year, when you get your annual review, make sure you remind your boss in writing how you met that standard and ask that it be added to your annual review.
If you work in a store of some kind, like a grocery store, department store, etc…why do you ignore customers as they walk by you? Why do you try to run them over as you are wandering around the store? When you go into a store do you expect to be run over, run down, or ignored? And when you are, does it bother you? Here’s my point – it should not matter where you work, you should never ignore a customer walking past and you are never more important than a customer. This is a valuable lesson to learn. No matter who you are or where you work, you have to learn to appreciate your customers! Think of it this way – not only that you could be that customer getting the poor service but more importantly, if it wasn’t for that customer, you wouldn’t have a job! Remember that the next time you ignore a customer.

The fact of the matter is that customer service is ignored or takes second place to growing a business and increasing profitability. When in fact, great customer service will do just that, grow your business and make it more profitable.

If you survey a room of 50 people, 94% of the people in the room would tell you that they have not received good customer service lately. Furthermore, they would tell you that they have received extremely poor service recently, more than they wish to recall.

I believe that together, we can change the way we are treated as customers and the way we treat customers. If we all work together to change the view point of everyone, then maybe we can bring back the days in which customers were respected and could recall more examples of “Great Customer Service” rather than poor customer service.

Please feel free to email me. In order to email me, you must visit my blog at what-customer-service.blogspot.com and then find my email link. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments not only about this article but examples of customer service you have received lately. Thank you in advance for assisting me in my mission.

Key Steps for Providing Great Customer Service

Great customer service is one of the most important aspects of any business or professional interaction. Producing a satisfying, enjoyable experience for a customer often is the difference between success and failure. While great customer service is easy to spot, it is much more difficult to perform as a professional.

As teenager beginning my first job in retail, I was quickly given a crash course in basic customer service skills. My employer showed a couple videos about customer interactions and little else. Much of the knowledge that I gained about customer service came through firsthand experience with customers. As I began my first job out of college, I found myself utilizing many of the skills I had developed earlier as well as employing a few additional tactics specific to my position.

Many new professionals may not have had early experience with customer service in a previous position. Not having a basic understanding of great customer service can be a detriment to an individual’s career in any profession. Simply understanding a few basic tenets can help a new professional ensure that customers leave interactions feeling satisfied and happy.

The first step of providing great customer service is to provide a personal introduction. Stating your name and asking how you can help are crucial to setting the tone for the conversation. Moreover, it helps put the customer at ease and makes you appear more accessible. Go to any restaurant and watch how a waiter or waitress interacts with diners. They always take time to introduce themselves and establish a friendly report with the customer. While this step may appear insignificant, it is, in reality, the foundation to any great customer service interaction.

It is also important not to trivialize the problems of the customer. As a professional, I often receive questions that I have answered multiple times over the years; however, I make sure to treat every interaction as personal as possible. Although I may have dealt with a similar issue with another client, it is detrimental to assume my current customer is dealing with the exact same problem. Simply put, problems are different and need personalized attention. A way to ensure you are providing personalized attention-even for the most mundane problems-is to employ active listening. Allowing the customer to voice their problem or concern without cutting them off and restating their problem to ensure clarification are ways to ensure you are promoting active listening and great customer service.

During any customer service interaction, it is essential to not assume the customer has a certain level of knowledge. When troubleshooting with clients, it is important to try to start with the basics and work up. I utilize a list of simple questions that I ask every customer dealing with an issue. Covering these basics-which can be as simple as reloading a webpage-ensures that every possible solution has been covered before moving on to more complicated resolutions.

Ensuring the highest level of customer satisfaction is the goal of any customer service interaction. Going the extra mile to make sure an issue is solved or question is answered can make a significant difference. Early in my professional career, I often covered the basics and simply tried to solve the customer’s issue; however, as I progressed in my career, I realized it was important to ensure the problem did not arise again. Uncovering the root of the issue or providing the customer with the knowledge to be self-sufficient provides an extra level of service that makes the difference in a professional interaction.

Unfortunately, there will be times when a customer’s problems cannot be resolved over the phone or with a visit to a store. In these cases, a more escalated response may be needed to solve the problem. Overnighting a product, sending a technician or providing a refund are all appropriate responses to more serious issues. When providing a more escalated solution, it is crucial to offer a timeframe and guarantee a response. It is also important to gather all the appropriate information to ensure the problem will be addressed without additional contact with the customer-making sure your next interaction provides a solution is the goal!

Finally, it is not guaranteed that the customer will maintain a calm, collected manner during the conversation. They may become annoyed or hostile when the solution you offer does not coincide with their demands. If this is the case, it is important to remain calm and ensure the tone of the call does not become aggressive. When dealing with an unruly customer, I often allow for a hostile tone to persist for a minute before letting my manager address the problem. Allowing a supervisor to address the issue not only shows the customer their problems are important but also helps relieve the tension in the conversation. In intense cases when the customer exhibits threats or violent behavior, it is appropriate to ask the individual to leave or terminate the call-although this is an extreme response.

6 Steps to Deliver Remarkable Customer Service

From a viral video to a positive review, a customer’s motivation to share their experience with your product or service usually comes down to remarkability. By remarkable we mean something that is worth commenting on and sharing with others.

Sharing can be in the form of ratings, reviews, comments, posts, and good old fashioned word-of-mouth. For small businesses, what your company offers must be remarkable, and the largest opportunity to make a guest’s experience notable lies within the domain of customer interaction. From the smallest details to the overall company culture, the customer’s experience is what makes or breaks continued client attraction and retention.

How do you instill a culture in your small business that motivates your staff to deliver consistently remarkable customer service, resulting in increased customer loyalty and revenues?

Here are six steps to delivering consistently on your customer promise and improving your business.

It Starts and Ends at the Top

Customer service begins and ends with YOU, the owner. Nothing else really matters, and all other efforts are pointless, unless the owners truly believe in the value of delivering remarkable customer service.

Do you believe your customers are looking to take advantage of you, or do you realize that the vast majority of them are honest and will reward you with their loyalty if you treat them right? Are your employee policies all about control and avoiding theft, or is your staff truly empowered to take care of the customer? The “Employee of the Month” plaque on the wall is meaningless if the owners and management of the company don’t truly believe in delivering remarkable customer service, and the investment it requires.

The investment from the top includes believing in and instilling a persistent culture of superior service. It should include a shared manifesto which serves as a foundation for your company’s culture. It’s not just the cliché posters about leadership and team work, but your true conviction about running your company in a way that proudly represents you and your staff. It’s about delivering the service you enjoy experiencing when you visit your favorite establishments – the places you go back to again and again because they make you feel great, and which you share with others!

Culture

The interaction between customer and company has become increasingly transparent, thanks in part to technology. Company brands are no longer static entities, but rather dynamic and personified. Culture is everything in today’s business environment, and customers can smell insincerity from a mile away. Part of a brand’s culture must be built from the values and core beliefs of the company’s owners. Your company should foster an environment where a passion for remarkable customer service can thrive. Like much in life, it all comes down to balance. If you believe in your core values and have faith in the ability and training of your employees to deliver, it will be easier to develop an environment of empowerment and trust.

Culture is a living, breathing organism that needs to be supported and nurtured. It evolves over time, but the core tenets should never waiver. One way to measure if you have successfully instilled a strong culture is to observe how your team handles a new member. Does the team automatically correct and guide the new member’s behavior and actions if they vary from the accepted norms of your culture without being told? Are they quick to tell managers that this new employee is not a fit? Does the new employee stand out from the other employees and feel as if they are a “fish out of water”? These are good signs that your team embodies the culture of your business and leads to consistently delivering on your customer promise, even when you are not watching.

Systems

Systems are the ways in which a company’s culture is carried out consistently and repeatedly. Without the infrastructure of systems (including software, manuals, forms, training, and checklists), remarkable customer service deteriorates quickly. Systems are the key to executing consistently in every aspect of your business.

As it relates to customer service, your employee training and development systems are critical. Well trained employees that have access to protocols and procedures which foster good client relationships are a key to the success of any business. Your focus should be to develop systems as if you are a multi-unit operation, even if you are running a single-location company. This approach supports the repeatability of your process which should ensure that every new employee is hired, trained and developed to the same productive and effective standard.

Employees

Your culture and systems mean nothing without the right team of highly motivated people to execute them. When it comes to your company’s team of workers, it’s important to take the time and focus on finding people that will make a good fit.

Always remember to hire slowly, and fire quickly. If a member of the staff is not a good fit, it is critical to sever ties quickly. Remember, just because an employee is unsuited for a particular position does not make them a bad person or poor worker, it’s just likely not a good fit.

When hiring customer-facing employees, personality and character are often more important than skills or experience. You can teach a person new skills, but it’s extremely difficult to teach someone how to enjoy working with and serving customers. It’s helpful to have a baseline of a great employee, and also use employee assessment tools like Kolbe’s RightFit™ solutions when possible to help you choose the right candidate for the position.

Listen and Measure

How do you know if you are delivering consistently remarkable customer experiences? How do you measure customer service and satisfaction? It’s imperative that you and your management team listen and measure to objectively assess your progress and execution. Your customers will tell you what they think about your product and service, but you have to listen and be receptive to their feedback. You must also measure, and reward or correct, how your staff is executing. Doing so keeps your focus on customer service top-of-mind throughout your entire organization.

From online reviews to mystery shoppers, the trick is to make sure to listen and take into account what your customers are saying. Try listening for broad themes that permeate from a variety of sources. Ask your employees what they think, or ask a friend to test out your business as a customer to get an unadulterated and trustworthy view of customer-facing interaction. Monitor social media platforms and use alert technologies to stay attuned to what people are saying about your business. Take reviews and feedback to heart, and take input from the loyal customers who love your company.

Execute Consistently

Consistency is the true test of your commitment to delivering remarkable customer experiences. Are you dedicated to delivering remarkable service for the life of your business, or was it just a fading phase?

An individual customer does not really care that you have executed flawlessly on the previous thousand customers – it’s their transaction and interaction that matters most. Furthermore, a high opinion from one customer can be cancelled out by a bad opinion from another. And people are more likely to share a poor experience than a positive one – a reality which is greatly amplified by the relative anonymity and ease of the internet to share with others and encourage everyone to become a critic.

Delivering consistently, with each customer and every interaction, is the most difficult thing to achieve, and it should be your ultimate goal. While it’s impossible to be perfect, your standard must be set extremely high so that you execute as closely to 100% as possible. And when you fail, as we all naturally do at times, your process should include a fast and genuine resolution for your customers. Most customers understand that we all make mistakes – what they don’t usually tolerate is indifference and lack of follow-up.

Being remarkable is often what sets us apart from the competition. Our products and services must be of high quality, but it’s the experiences our customers enjoy when they interact with us that they value and share the most.

The Jaded New Yorker and Customer Service

Have you ever walked into a store and not been greeted by an employee? I was born and raised in NYC. Walking into a store and not being greeted by an employee or not being able to find an employee to help you locate an item was the norm to me.

The lack of customer service became so routine to me that when I moved to Charlotte, I was annoyed every time I entered a store. So annoyed I would send my husband shopping so that I would not have to interact with store employees. In addition to the abundant ‘welcome’s’ and ‘may I help you with anything’ the part I wished to avoid the most it checking out. While at the check-out no matter what lane or store it was the same thing, ‘how are you today, ma’am?’ followed by an extensive conversation about nothingness ranging from commentary about the weather to questions regarding the items I purchased or stories about their family members.

I had to evaluate where did the problem lie. Were the store employees that annoying. While a small percentage of that may be true but it could not be the case when for every store; I had to look within and discover something very surprising. It took a long time for me to realize how jaded New York City has made me. I was conditioned by the rudeness and self-centered attitude customs of a New Yorker. I needed to break this negative influence very quickly, especially if I was going to be a long-time resident of Charlotte.

I began to look at customer service from a new perspective. In conjunction with the need to change my outlook, I also needed this change if I were to become an entrepreneur who will need to provide nothing less that superior customer service. I needed to evaluate the experience of customer service from the perspective of both the provider and the recipient. What I was accustomed to, was in reality, not acceptable.

I took the time to evaluate customer service from the perspective of the customer as well as the employee. Recently, I recorded my customer service experiences over the course of this past summer. My decision to do such was two-fold; one, to strip myself of all negative notions of ‘annoying customer service’ and two, to establish the type of customer service I want to develop and implement within my business.

If I am walking into an establishment of which I plan to become a patron, I expect to be acknowledged and respected. I would like to feel comfortable and confident that my money is being spent in an establishment that recognizes my contribution. Greeting me upon entry is not annoy it assists in removing any apprehensions I, as the customer, may have; especially if I plan on making a significant purchase. Also, statistics have shown that consumers tend to spend more money when they feel relaxed and comfortable.

Having an employee ask a customer if assistance is needed before they have to seek help reinforces customer acknowledgement which increases the level of comfort and relaxation. Having an employee within reach at all times is beneficial to the customer because it decreases moments of anxiety or frustration when a question or concern cannot be immediately addressed. The average person level of interest is a very short span, and once a person has to seek assistance, interest is evaluated and most often lost.

It is easy to underestimate the value and significance customer service can bring. Excellent customer service can increase sales for business while subpar customer service can run a business into closing its doors permanently. It is up to the business owner to find a working balance between providing first-rate customer service without compromising the integrity of the establishment as well as the employees.

As an entrepreneur, making sure the customer is always satisfied is a tough task and contrary to popular belief the customer cannot always ‘be right.’ Is it fair or even moral for a business owner to ignore the significance of its employees to provide gratification to a customer, especially if the gratification requesting is undeserving? I like to adhere to the ideology that the customer is not always right, but they are deserving of making sure they receive the right level of customer service.

My observations have led me to establish a new outlook on customer service. I am no longer annoyed when I am greeted or asked if I need assistance. I do find myself offended when I encounter establishments that do not provide welcoming and helpful customer service.

Business Finance Training and Effective Business Solutions

Business finance training refers to programs that teach individuals how to handle various financial duties. Finance training is similar to finance tips in that both help business owners make better monetary decisions, but training programs offer a more detailed explanation of finance strategies. Training programs vary in price and can be used by the owners and employees of a business.

The most basic business finance training provide information on budgeting, preparing financial statements, managing cash flow, strategizing, forecasting, improving performance, and applying basic procedures and concepts to more effectively manage a business. These programs are recommended for new business owners to help them understand standard business practices. Once these basic methods are mastered, more specific financial training may be looked into.

Advanced business finance training delves more deeply into a certain financial procedure or concept, usually at a higher cost than basic programs. Advanced programs may teach business owners how to set up effective business models, make decisions based on quantitative analysis, manage and control accounts, practice due diligence, measure productivity, and strategize concerning mergers and acquisitions.

Taking part in any kind of business finance training gives a business owner the resources to make more intelligent business decisions that result in increased productivity and profits. Many different types of courses are available either online or at a specified location. Some programs may even offer the option to train at the business. Taking into consideration the needs and abilities of a business is the key to finding the best business finance training.

A business finance solution generally refers to methods of funding and maintaining the finances of a business. Most solutions involve ways of obtaining working capital, but others also offer ways of protecting and increasing that capital.

To obtain working capital, business owners look to finance solutions that offer funding by several different means. The most common means are loans and financing. Asset-based loans use a business’s assets, such as inventory and equipment, as collateral. A business may also opt for a property loan in order to acquire commercial space. Invoice financing, such as factoring, involves liquidating or selling a business’s accounts receivables in exchange for quick funding. Some businesses look to trade financing to supply their inventory. The business will tell its financer the amount and cost of goods needed, and the financer will pay for the goods. The business then repays the amount financed over a specified period of time.

Most companies that provide business finance solutions also offer ways to protect and increase a business’s capital. Credit protection safeguards a business from daily risks, such as customers not paying on time, so that the business does not suffer incredible losses. This makes it much easier for the business to borrow money in the future, and it protects the balance sheet. A finance solution may also offer business insurance plans that increase the stability of a business. The most common types of business insurance are employee and public liability, car, property, and health insurance. These business finance solutions are designed to protect businesses against potential losses.

Functions of Business Finance

Strength and soundness of business depends on the availability of finance and competency with which it is used. The abundance of finance can do wonders and its scarcity can ruin even a well established business. Finance increases the strength and viability of business. It increases the resistance capacity of a business to face losses and economic depression. It is just like a lubricant, the more it is applied to the business, the quickly the business will move. Following headings explain the importance of finance to business:

(1) Initiating Business: Finance is the first and fore most requirement of every business. It is the starting point of every business, industrial project etc. Whether you start a sole proprietary concern, a partnership firm, a company or a charity institution, you need ample amount of finance. It is equally important for profit seeking and non-profit activities. It is equally important for a multinational organization and for a free dispensary.

(2) Purchase of Assets: Finance is needed to purchase all sorts of assets. Even if credit is available some down payment is to be made. Mostly finance is needed at the start of business for the purchase of fixed assets. These fixed assets consume a large amount of initial investment of the entrepreneur, so he may face liquidity difficulty in running day to day affairs of the business.

(3) Initial Losses: No business attains high profit on the first day of commencement. Some losses are normal before the business reaches its full capacity and generate enough revenue to match cost. Finance is necessary so that these initial losses can be sustained and business can be allowed to progress gradually.

(4) Professional Services: Certain business need services of specialized personnel. Such personnel have rich experience in specialized fields and they can provide useful guidance to make business profitable. Nevertheless these services are costly. Finance is always needed so that services of such professional consultants can be hired.

(5) Development: Business is always exposed to change. New innovations and emergence of new technologies replaces old techniques out of market. So in order to remain in the market, it is needed to keep the business well equipped with all emerging tools and techniques. This required finance. New technology is always expensive as it is better than others. So finance is needed to purchase new equipment and keep the business running.

(6) Information Technology: Information technology has now changed the geography of the business battle field. The home markets have now extended virtually to other comers of the world. The whole world can be your customer or competitor. To face such a fierce competition, IT is needed. Skills and competency in IT can perform miracles. But finance is again the decisive factor. It is very much needed to incorporate expensive IT products in the business.

(7) Media War: The advertisement and promotion have now become a vital elements for the success of business. The way a businessman approaches a customer and convinces him to purchase his product has become more important than the quality of product. With advertisement on International media, a businessman can reach the minds of millions of people around the globe. However, advertisement is a luxury which every business can’t afford. Huge finance is required to meet advertisement expenses.

(8) Resource Management: Finance is very essential for efficient resource management. Resources here include capital and human resources. Maintenance of plant and equipment and training of employees all need finance. Establishment of new industrial units, expansion of plant capacity, hiring of well learned skilful laborers – all
these factors can lead to huge revenue but at the first place they need finance to start with.

(9) Stock Investments: These investments are those which are made to hold ample stock of raw materials in hand. Bulk purchase of raw materials is profitable in a sense that purchase discount can be attained and there is no danger of production halts. So companies most often hold huge amount of stocks and raw materials. But such an investment can be made only if a company has sufficient capital or finance to carry out its daily operation easily besides holding huge stock.

(10) Combating Risks: Everything is exposed to one or more risks. A business is also exposed to variety of risks. These risks include natural hazards, burden of any huge liability, loss of market or brand name etc. Finance is needed to make business powerful, so that it can sustain occasional losses and liabilities.

The Primary Cause Of Business Financing Frustration

Finding proper business financing is not easy at the best of times for most small and medium sized business owners and managers.

There are a number of reasons that collectively explain why the business financing market can be so difficult to understand and navigate.

But probably the single biggest reason is the lack of useful information about how the business financing market actually works.

Business financing information and education sources predominantly come in two forms: 1) Text books; 2) Major bank advertising.

If you’ve ever read through a educational finance text book or taken a business financing course, you already know how difficult it can be to apply the theories, principles, and strategies to a small or medium sized business.

Our formal education system provides limited information as to how the market place works, how to plan for financing requirements, how to manage periods of growth, decline, transition, start up, etc.

Sure academic books and courses can go through all these areas in great detail, but is the information practical, real world, something you can relate to and apply yourself as a manager or owner of a small or medium sized business?

In most cases, the answer is a resounding NO.

Most finance text books speak to big business financing dynamics that are not easily transferable to small and medium sized business scenarios.

Outside of the formal education system, the next great source of business financing information is the information provided by the major banks, which they tend to make available to you by the boat load through their broad based marketing campaigns.

Unfortunately, the information by itself seldom helps you determine if a particular institution would be able to provide you with financing, or what would be required to qualify for a loan.

The good news is that business financing sources continue to grow in numbers as more and more lenders carve out a particular piece of the market to service.

In order to take advantage of these alternatives, you need to have a solid approach in place when seeking business financing.

Here’s a short list of things to consider

>>> Develop a solid, ongoing, understanding of both your personal and business assets, income, and cash flow.

Regardless of the business financing model, these elements will always come into play to some degree.

Being able to demonstrate a solid understanding of your business financials is also an indication of your ability to manage the underlying business.

>>> Monitor and manage your personal and business credit.

Small and medium sized business financing is focused on both personal and business credit histories.

Regular reviews of both personal and business credit reports from the major credit reporting agencies are important to avoid errors and credit practices that can severely damage your borrowing power.

>>> Develop your marketing position.

Yes, seeking business financing is a marketing exercise.

When applying for business financing, you’re marketing your business to lending sources and they in turn are marketing their business financing programs to you.

Think of the lender as a customer to better understand what they’re looking for. Then, develop a business proposal that addresses all their potential needs and concerns.

>>> Research Lending Sources

There are lots of business financing sources. But there is also lots of variation in the types of business applications each one is prepared to consider.

Broad based lenders rely on credit history and net worth. As you get more specific in terms of financing application and industry, lender programs become more narrow and can be harder to locate.

You need to consider things like industry, sector, and geography when looking for business financing sources.

Financing consultants and business loan brokers can be an excellent source of information to aid you in this process.

>>> Qualify The Lender

Before you make a formal application, find out if the lender has the programs and lending track record to meet your specific needs.

Too often, the lender is doing all the qualifying.

>>> Compare your options

Depending on the scenario, there can be several financing strategies that could work for your business.

Make sure you take the time to compare before making a decision. The extra time spent could save you considerable time and money in the long run.

>>> Start Today

Regardless of what your business financing needs are right now, you should regularly invest time staying on top of your business financials, monitoring your credit, and researching financing sources that fit your industry and potential future requirements.

When the time comes to acquire capital, your proactive efforts can make all the difference in getting the capital you need with terms and timing that are acceptable to your business.

Business Finance Funding Advice and Commercial Financing Help

The Working Capital Journal is one of several commercial financing resources which should be reviewed regularly by small business owners to assist in keeping up with the imposing difficulties posed by rapid changes in the business finance funding climate. As noted below, there have been some surprising actions taken by lenders as a direct result of recent financial uncertainties. The increasingly complex and confusing environment for working capital finance is likely to produce several unexpected challenges for commercial borrowers.

The working capital finance industry has primarily been operating on a regional and local basis for many years. In response to cost-cutting that has permeated many industries, there has been a consolidation that has resulted in fewer effective commercial lenders throughout the United States. Most business owners have been understandably confused about what this might mean for the future of their commercial financing efforts, especially because this has happened in a relatively short period of time.

Of course, for some time there have been ongoing complex problems for commercial borrowers to avoid when seeking commercial loans. But what has produced a new set of business finance funding problems is that we appear to be entering a period which will be characterized by even more uncertainties in the economy. Previous rules and standards for commercial financing and working capital finance are likely to increasingly change quickly, with little advance notice by business lenders.

Business owners should make an extended effort to understand what is happening and what to do about it due to this realization that substantial changes are likely throughout the United States in the near future for commercial finance funding. At the forefront of these efforts should be a review of what actions commercial lenders have already taken in recent months. The Working Capital Journal is one prominent example of a free public resource that will facilitate a better understanding of the responses by business lenders to recent economic circumstances.

By publicizing actions taken by commercial lenders, this will contribute to these two goals, both of which are likely to be helpful to typical business owners: (1) To highlight controversial bank-lender tactics with a view toward reducing or eliminating questionable lending practices. (2) To help business owners prepare for commercial finance funding changes. To assist in this effort, sources such as The Working Capital Journal are encouraging business owners to report and describe their own experiences so that they can be shared with a broader audience that might benefit from the information. Some of the most significant commercial financing changes reported so far by commercial borrowers involve working capital loans, commercial construction financing and credit card financing. A notable situation of concern is that predatory lending practices by credit card issuers have been reported by many business owners. Some specific businesses such as restaurants are having an especially difficult time in surviving recently because they have been excluded from obtaining any new business financing by many banks.

One of the few recent bright spots in business finance funding, as noted in The Working Capital Journal, has been the continuing ability of business owners to obtain working capital quickly by business cash advance programs. For most businesses accepting credit cards, this commercial financing approach should be actively considered. Business cash advances are literally saving the day for many small business owners because most banks appear to be doing a terrible job of providing commercial loans and other working capital finance help in the midst of recent financial and economic uncertainties. For example, as noted above, restaurants are virtually unable to currently obtain commercial finance funding from most banks. Fortunately, restaurants accepting credit cards are in a good position to obtain needed cash from credit card receivables financing and merchant cash advances.

Small Business Finance Success Improves With Realistic Options

The goal of being realistic when seeking new commercial loans and working capital financing will help commercial borrowers avoid a number of commercial finance problems. With proper preparation business owners should be in a better position to obtain new financing despite the difficult challenges impacting most working capital loans and small business financing. Nevertheless it should be anticipated that terms of financing will be different from prior commercial financing. Because of recent commercial lending difficulties, business owners actively assessing the most effective options for their small business finance decisions are likely to find the smoothest path to business loan success.

In view of volatile conditions which have recently impacted credit markets, this will not be a simple task. A very common example of the problem is illustrated by how much misinformation and confusion there has been about business financing and working capital availability. Getting more accurate information about what is realistically possible can be one of the most difficult challenges for commercial borrowers.

When seeking to identify realistic choices in a confusing working capital management climate, a number of harsh realities must be confronted by all small business owners. For most current commercial financing decisions by business owners, there are several major factors to anticipate. In the first example, additional small business loan collateral is being requested by most commercial lenders. Second, many regional and local banks have discontinued lending for business financing and working capital. In a third example, businesses which are not currently profitable or not current in their debt payments will have extensive difficulties. Fourth, business construction funding currently is very limited in most areas. In a fifth example, lenders are eliminating unsecured business lines of credit for most small business owners.

Despite the new business financing limitations just noted, there are practical working capital options for small business owners to consider. An increasingly effective commercial financing option in the midst of an uncertain economy is a merchant cash advance program based on credit card processing activity. Even though this commercial funding option has been available for a few years, it has not been used by most small businesses. For most businesses which accept credit cards, merchant cash advances should be evaluated as an important tool for improving business cash flow. Small business owners wanting to pursue this financing option should consult a business financing expert who is knowledgeable about this working capital management approach as well as other small business loans.

Even though working capital loans are not as widely available as they were just a few months ago, this kind of small business financing is still in fact obtainable. Since some of the largest providers have stopped making these business loans, the main change for business borrowers is the likelihood that they will be dealing with a different commercial lender. Small business owners will benefit from finding an experienced and candid business financing expert to assist in evaluating realistic options because the most effective working capital financing providers are not aggressively marketing this capability.

As stressed above, when making commercial financing decisions it is becoming increasingly important for business owners to first determine their effective business finance funding options. Because of recent volatility in financial markets, this task is likely to be much more difficult than most commercial borrowers realize. It is advisable to explore commercial finance options that might be necessary if economic conditions change even further even for business owners who are satisfied with their current working capital financing arrangements. The use of Plan B contingency financing is an important tool to assist commercial borrowers in this process.