We hear it all the time about big companies, and most likely we have
professed a few of the same sentiments ourselves: "They've gotten too big to
care about individual customers," "Personalized service is a thing of the
past," and "If you get mad and go away, there will always be another
customer right around the corner."
Perhapsbut I like to think that no matter how big or small, a company's
first priority is to satisfy its customers.
There's such a thing as "Buffalo Hunter's Syndrome"the feeling that
because there always has been plenty of a certain thing (in this case
customers) there always will be plenty. But we need only to look at what
happened to the once great Buffalo herds of the American plains to
understand the fallacy of this way of thinking (are you listening K-Mart?
CUSTOMER DISSATISFACTION IS LIKE A CANCER
No matter how big an enterprise, dissatisfaction can eat away like a
cancer. The bigger the entity, perhaps the longer it takes for the
"disease" to run its coursebut it will run its course!
Large companies often dedicate entire teams and departments to customer
serviceto studying it, measuring it, and supposedly improving it. But
what about small business owners, or even solo-professionalsindividuals
who are one-person businesseswho either don't have the time or lack the
budget for such an approach? How can they handle customer service?
KEEP IT SIMPLE
As a solo professional, I've kept my customer satisfaction process
simple, relying on two main principles to guide me.
Principle #1It takes less effort and drains less of my energy
to be helpful and pleasant than it does to be a "grump." Try it sometime.
If you're having a bad day, go ahead and be genuinely nice to the next
customer who calls, emails or visitseven smile while you're on the
phone. Dare to laugh!
You're bound to get an energy lift, an up-tick on
your mood meter. You'll be happier . . . and so will the customer.
Principle #2Role play. Whenever I'm contacted by a customer or
potential client, I imagine myself in that person's position. How would I
feel? What would my needs be? How would I want to be treated? I then
By employing these two simple ideas, I've been able to make providing
good customer service second natureit's simply the normwhich allows me
to focus more on sustaining and growing my business.
GOOD MANNERS AND COMMON SENSE
For small business owners with employees, are there ways you can
instill these principles in your staff? I think so. It's not rocket
science. It's mostly good manners and common sense.
If imagining yourself in a customer's shoes isn't a powerful enough
image, perhaps imagining the customer as your "mother" would be more
effective. In other words, given a specific encounter, how would you want
your mother treated? Think about it.
Good customer service also depends on setting EXPECTATIONS with your
customers from the outsetpossibly even BEFORE they become your
customersand then consistently meeting or exceeding these expectations.
- Clearly delineate your range of serviceswhat you can and can't do.
Remember, you can't be all things to everyone, and trying to do so will
undoubtedly result in some level of customer dissatisfaction.
- Let your customers know how they can access your services and
whenWhat are your office hours? What about after hours? and when is
email (or a phone call) more appropriate?
- Provide an idea of your responsivenessWhen a customer calls or needs
work done, how responsive are you? Be consistent. If you routinely reply
to emails within one business day, do this consistently. If, for some
reason, you aren't able to respond as you traditionally do, let your
customers know (for example, you're on vacation, away from the office,
- Maintain good, honest communication. If you can't do something in a
requested time period, or aren't available, simply say so. It's not only
the right thing to do, it's good service.
- Provide alternatives. If you can't meet a customer need, offer ideas
for alternatives. This may push business to someone else, but you're
certain to engender goodwill among your customersand that can often
result in return business and, at the very least, positive word of mouth.
About the Author
Matt McGovern combines a rare blend of creative and technical know how with more than
20 years of hands-on management and consulting experience. Through 700acres Small Business
Services, Matt provides writing, editorial, book design, project management,
Web development, and marketing consultation servicesprimarily for small businesses and
solo professionals. He has authored and edited numerous Web sites, books, e-books, and
newsletters; and has also published articles and short stories, including the
novel, CURRENTSEvery Life Leaves an Imprint (read more about it
at www.mattmcgovern.com). Get
"Know How" his free e-newsletter at www.700acres.com.
Copyright © 2004 by Matt McGovernAll rights reserved. This article is the intellectual work and property of the author and is made available
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