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Common Sense Customer Service!

The key to growth in any business; whether it be the largest corporation on the planet or someone working a home business from their laptop on the dining room table; is exceptional Customer Service. Customer Service can’t just be ”good” or ”OK”; it must be exceptional, above the bar, and above anyone who may be competing with you for the business of those customers. However; there is a major difference between a large corporation and your home business: Customer Retention must be one of your top priorities if you are to succeed. Target™ or Wal-Mart™ can lose a couple of customers per month as a result of poor customer service and it won’t even be noticed; yet the loss of one or two customers per year due to lacking customer service can (and will) be devastating to a home business. The whole idea behind “Common Sense Customer Service” is simple; if you don’t provide proper Customer Service, you fail. Word of mouth is the best advertising venue on the face of this earth; and in the Internet age it can spread within minutes instead of days or weeks…sucking away potential customers to an ecstatic competitor.

Let’s first take a look at what we call “Common Sense” and how it relates to Customer Service for your home business. The first question you need to ask yourself (every day, every call, every e-mail) is this: “If I were the customer, how would I want to be treated?” We’ve all probably encountered situations where we have had to deal with a company whose product or service we have questions or even complaints about. What was your experience like? Would you have done it differently on your end? If so, how? Did they show empathy to your situation? These are just some of the questions you need to look at when evaluating whether or not you are going to provide “good” or “exceptional” customer service.

If there is a complaint, you can’t be defensive or argumentative. EVER! If there is a question, you better be ready to answer it; or provide the customer with a call back time estimation as to when you will have an answer if you need to contact the vendor, a mentor, or another company to get the answer for the customer. Whenever possible, do not simply refer them to another person or department, because that will turn them off. Try to resolve the issue yourself first, and if it is something where they in fact do need to talk to someone else, conference them in or transfer them to the correct department, along with contact name, business name, etc. Here are some basics, right from the “bible” of some of the best customer service call centers in the world:

Be Courteous: Always answer the phone (or an e-mail) in a prompt and friendly manner. For phone calls, always answer with, “Thank you for calling (Business Name); this is (Your Name); how may I be of assistance today?” SMILE when you answer the phone. Believe me, the person on the other line knows whether you are smiling or not on a phone call!! This has the immediate effect of disarming the angriest customer. They may still be angry, but their defensive lines have already been breached by the way you just answered their call.

Gather Information (LISTEN!): Get their name (and then address them by their name); phone number, e-mail address, and the product they use. Write it down. It serves as an immediate reference during the call, plus allows you to create documentation of whom you have spoken with and when -- especially if you need to call this individual back in the future or suspect they may call again.

Empathize: This is probably the most important of them all! Show empathy (concern and understanding) about their situation. Whether it is a product question, complaint, billing concern, etc. This is where “The Customer Is Always Right” enters the equation. , even if they’re wrong or simply misguided. By listening carefully; repeating back the issue to the customer; and not being apologetic but concerned, you will establish immediate rapport with that customer and break down any other defensive barriers the caller may have. And if you’re still smiling, you can disintegrate negativity and turn this into an educational experience and opportunity for you both. An example of apology vs. empathy:

oApology (not recommended for most situations, shows you are wrong, they are right, and you will never be right again): “I’m really sorry that you are not happy with the product. It’s my fault entirely. We’ll do (whatever your resolution is) to get this taken care of. Again, I’m sorry.”

oEmpathy (the right approach): “I completely understand your displeasure with (product). I’d like to do what I can to assist you through this (complaint matter; descriptive, shows you were listening). First, let me make sure I have the information correctly (repeat issue, verify, thank them).” Move on to Resolution.

Seek Resolution: I feel it is important to first state a little “disclaimer” as to what you will do for your resolution: it is up to you. The most important thing to remember is that there must be resolution to your customer’s question, complaint, or concern, even if it is a temporary resolution. If you don’t have a way to resolve the issue, for good or for the short term, you might as well not even take the call, because you will lose that customer! This is where we step back to “Common Sense”: Would you remain a customer somewhere where they did all of the above and then said, “Well, I really can’t help you.”? What would you do? Hang up? Walk out? Demand a resolution regardless of what they just said?

**Personally; I’ve been through the latter just recently. Demanding a resolution worked for me; I refused to leave the building (a large appliance and electronics “Superstore”) until I had my refund and an explanation as to why they delivered a product that wasn’t even close to what I ordered. This once again shows “The Customer IS always right”! The sad thing is, because they didn’t help me, and I had to become a demanding and stand-offish customer (which I avoid at all costs); that company has lost my business forever. They tried to ”appease” me with a gift card, which I ripped in half in front of them. Why? Because if they can’t even try to resolve a problem right then and there, then why would I ever want to buy a product from them again? So they lost, I “won.” It doesn’t ever have to be that way!**

Now you must show the customer that they are right; but so are you, so are your policies, and so is your plan of resolution…

You should have solid policies and procedures in place for your business to use as guidelines when it comes to resolutions.

If you are in a distributorship type of business, be sure to have all Policies and Procedures of the company memorized as much as possible and available at ALL times to be able to reference in case of a complaint.

Be open to ideas; don’t use guidelines that are too rigid. This however is a very careful balance. You need to be able to bend, but if you bend too far, every customer will know about it and try to get the same thing out of you that you give a particular customer to satisfy them.

Be ready while listening and repeating issues or asking leading questions to be able to have a rough idea of what resolution will be, so there is no awkward silence or long delay in communication between yourself and your customer (of course this depends a bit on method of contact, phone, e-mail, fax, or letter).

EXECUTE the Resolution. This can be painless for you and for the customer. Concisely state (with Empathy) the issue at hand and your proposed resolution to the customer. Do not say “Well, our policy says…,” as that puts the customer back on the offensive and you on the defensive and you don’t want to be there. Disaster will follow, and you will always lose. Give your proposed resolution not as an “Is this OK?” type of resolution, but “We can do this.”

If the customer continues to argue or disagrees with your resolution statement, then you can bring up policies or procedures that are in place (and the customer should have a copy to reference themselves). Be firm about adhering to your policies while expressing a desire to do everything possible to resolve the issue. Do not state anything in a defensive way. Try to practice stating or writing things in a way that shows you are actually “bending” for the customer while still holding true to the guidelines you have in place.

After an issue is resolved with a customer, there is something that should be “Common Sense” but is often missed by many companies and individuals. They assume the problem is solved and move on. Wrong. The customer may have “accepted” your resolution, but did it SOLVE the problem? This is where the most powerful customer retention tool comes into play: Follow-up

You probably follow up with prospects and potential customers, right? You probably even follow up after a customer has ordered something to ensure everything is to their liking. Customer Service and Issue Resolutions should be no different. This time, if the customer had contacted you by phone and you have their e-mail address, follow up by e-mail. If the back and forth customer service that led to resolution was through e-mail, follow up with e-mail and a phone call. Starting to see it? It shows extra effort. You already placed a ton of effort into a phone conversation, but through e-mail it is much easier as you don’t need to respond in real time and they can’t “see” the hesitation in your voice. However, always remember, they can see hesitation in the written word.

The follow-up should be simple and should also include courtesy and empathy. Wait at least 24 hours if it is an “instant” resolution; if it is something where an exchange takes place, wait until you know the customer has received the replacement product or service (or refund) before doing the follow-up. Something as simple as the following would suffice:

Dear George,

We at Widget Enterprises want to thank you for your business, and wanted to take this opportunity to follow up with you to ensure that the resolution to your issue (Short, concise restatement of issue here) was satisfactory and that your communication with our company was pleasant and what you expected.

If you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call at (555) 555-1235 or e-mail us at CusotmerService@CompanyName.com. We’ll also be sending you a short survey via e-mail so that we may better serve our customers in the future and ensure the highest satisfaction rate.

It has been a pleasure doing business with you, George, and we at Widget Enterprises look forward to serving you in the near future!

Regards,

Customer Service Name
Widget Enterprises
Phone
E-mail

Follow-up is that easy. They feel GOOD when they get a letter like this!!! Have you ever gotten one? How did you feel? See? If you want to do a survey, ask simple questions about what we could have done better, etc. This gives you the opportunity to adjust anything that may need correction in your Customer Service Structure.

I hope you take the opportunity to use these valuable pointers in your next contact with a customer. Have fun, help people. Customer Retention will always follow!

RESOURCES:

Customer Retention Associates: “Complaints: Customer Loyalty Torpedoes or Lifesavers. ”

Dashnier, Daniel L. “Level I Helpdesk Training Manual.” Instrumentarium USA, 2002.

Dashnier, Daniel L. “Quality Assurance Guidelines for Palm Customer Service.” SITEL Technology Services, Inc. (Daniel L. Dashnier, 2000).

Dashnier, Daniel L. “Quality Assurance Guidelines for Palm Web Chat.” SITEL Technology Services, Inc., 2000.

The many customers I have dealt with over the years from McDonald’s to GE Medical and my own company. I appreciate you!

On The Web:
http://www.sitel.com/ (SITEL Corporation)
http://www.crmcommunity.com/ (CRM Community Online)
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© Daniel L. Dashnier. All rights reserved worldwide.
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The author has written Quality Assurance Guidelines, score sheets and held hundreds of coaching sessions with Customer Service (phone), Technical Support (phone and web chat) staff for SITEL Technology Services, Inc. He has also written guidelines and training materials for management and employees to use for Quality guidelines in providing internal technical support to the over 1,450 employees of Instrumentarium USA, now a part of GE Medical Systems.

About the Author

Daniel Dashnier is a Freelance Writer, Wellness Coach and Consultant, and Abundance "Coach in Training" based in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. His successful Wellness Coaching includes this product as it's Cornerstone: http://daniel.healthyoudeserve.com/
Physical and Financial Wellness can be found at this site

Daniel Dashnier