Today I want to talk to you all about customer service because customer service is everything to small business with a small marketing budget.
Customer service is one of the key areas where a small business really should be able to trounce the competition by adding that personal touch, but I too often see this falling flat. The holy grail of business is a group of loyal customers who sing the praises of your company far and wide and do a ton of your marketing for you. You'll find that the easiest way to make this happen is usually by winning them over with amazing customer service.
I am one of those horrible millennials who isn't loyal to brands like my parents generation was and blah, blah, blah. But I am loyal to a few brands, very loyal. Sometimes that's because the product is just far superior, but usually it's about the customer service. So let me give you a few examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly and then let's see what lessons you can take from this.
A few examples of the great customer service experiences I've had and, not coincidentally, the brands to which I am most loyal: aerie lets me order as many bras as I want on online, I don't pay shipping, I can return whatever I want no questions asked and for no fees, and they've asked their customers about what they need and created bras that actually fit. I literally ONLY buy aerie and I tell everyone who will listen about them. I was an early adopter of Google Fi, Google's cell service, and when they realized that it was annoying that the phone I had with them had a different charging cord so couldn't be plugged into anything else, they said "oops, our bad" and sent me an adapter as a Christmas present. I hadn't even complained, they just recognized it and fixed it. They also replaced my boyfriends phone that broke, even though he didn't have a warranty, because it was only a couple of years old and it shouldn't have broken. No questions, no hassles. Good luck ever trying to get me to switch back to a normal carrier.
We all have horror stories though – the company that sent me the wrong make-up order and then acted like they were doing me some special favor by sending me what I had paid for; the company whose business model is based on pissing people off so much that they give up and go with another vendor so the warranty doesn't have to pay out (yeah, waiting a month for a new water heater in January in Chicago is not reasonable American Home Shield), every company ever who makes you press 10,000 buttons and give a bunch of personal info before you can talk to a real human who then proceeds to ask you for the same personal info you already gave to the computer. We've all dealt with it, we all hate it.
So what's the moral of this story? What can a business owner do to make sure her business is one that customers rave about not complain about? There are a few basic principles to keep in mind:
Firstly, think about what is easiest for the customer, not what is easiest for you. Sure, it would be less expensive for aerie to make me pay for returns or bring them back to the store, but it's easier for me to just pop it back in the bag and with the label provided and pop it in the mailbox. If I had to return to the store, the first time I got something that didn't fit would have been the last time I ordered and they would have missed out on way more purchases.
Secondly, this is an area where yes, actions still speak louder than words, but words matter too. When you screw up my order twice in a row, sending the replacement isn't good enough. You need to apologize and be nice. "Normally we wouldn't be able to send this out because we've already re-sent to you," is not what I want to hear. You had to re-send twice because you f*ed up twice, you should be thanking me for my patience, not asking for a thank you for giving me the products that I paid for.
Thirdly, and along those same lines, you have to admit when you're wrong. Understand the psychology here. If you messed up, all the customer wants to hear is "I'm sorry, I understand this must be upsetting to you and we feel badly that we caused that, here is what we are doing to solve the problem, thank you so much for your patience." Easy peasy and it usually diffuses the situation. Don't try to justify what happened or make excuses. Apologize, fix it, and maybe even offer some sort of olive branch. Then move on.
Finally, don't only focus on the bad stuff. Lots of times, businesses only think of customer service as what happens when someone has a problem. If you go out of your way to give someone a great experience to begin with, they'll be way more forgiving when you do make a mistake. Something as simple as remembering someone's drink order or suggesting features of a house that will matter to expectant parents once baby arrives but that they haven't thought of yet because it's the first can really go a long way.