No matter how conscientious you are, sooner or later customer service foul-ups will happen. These may be weather delays, supplier quality issues, or simple human error. When things go sideways, here are 3 keys to reducing stress and keeping customers:
- Own-it - don't blame other departments, suppliers, or your co-workers. You represent your company so take responsibility with words like, 'This was our mistake.' Customers know that you personally may not be to blame, but they respect the fact that you're taking responsibility.
- Empathize - use empathic statements like, 'This sounds frustrating.'
- Apologize - say, 'I'm sorry.' Even if the problem was due to weather delays, customers appreciate that someone - anyone - has expressed that they're sorry it happened.
As I explain in my seminars, if the problem was indeed your fault, then also give customers something for the inconvenience. That way, they'll become even more loyal than before the problem occurred.
When giving information or instructions to customers or coworkers, take a lesson from Lifeguards - focus on the positive. If, while at a swimming pool, a youngster starts running on the deck, the savvy Lifeguard won't say, 'Stop running!' Instead, she'll say, 'Walk please!' When dealing with customers rather than saying, 'We won't be able to deliver until the weekend,'instead say, 'we can have it for you as early as this weekend.' Same information but it's likely to be better received when offered as a positive.
To improve the impression you make upon customers, coworkers, or anyone, use these two words more often. When someone thanks you for something, rather than responding with the standard, 'you're welcome', 'yup' or worse, 'uh-huh', look the person in the eye, smile and say, 'my pleasure.'Saying 'my pleasure' takes no more time or energy than the other responses, yet it makes you sound like you are much more positive and willing to help.
Here's a dead giveaway as to whether you're dealing with an amateur sales person or a professional. Amateurs feel pressured to be experts in everything- not just the products or service they're selling. Professionals, on the other hand, are quick to admit ignorance about anything they're not absolutely sure about, be it weather forecasts, sports scores or the latest news. Saying 'I don't know' to a customer sends the message that you are honest and don't fake-it. That goes a long way towards generating our first and most important sale - trust.
When offering your customers any kind of a quantity discount, you'll get better results when you choose the right wording. Example: 'If you were to buy these widgets individually the price would total two hundred and eighty-seven dollars. As a package though, you get the whole set for two fifty-five.' The second number sounds much lower because a) the second and third digits are both lower than those of the initial number. And b) the package number is expressed without using the words: 'hundred', 'and', or 'dollars.'
As you explore ways to grow your business, often the first tactic is to approach potential customers who aren't aware of you. That's the last thing you should do. People who haven't heard of you may have no need or desire for your types of offerings. As I point out in my presentations, a sale only begins when a customer perceives a need. You'd be better off reconnecting with people who contacted you in the past about your services, but who chose to go with another supplier. The key is to do two things when you reconnect: 1. Point out up-front that last time it 'wasn't a fit'. 2. Explain how your offerings have improved. That's it. Since time has passed, the proverbial honeymoon may now be over with the other supplier. And you're demonstrating that your company is innovative and that you follow-up. Not bad for one call.
You're likely aware that volumes have been written about how to grow your business through customer referrals. Most strategies focus on customers providing names for you to contact. I've talked about the flaws of this approach in other 30-second tips. For today's tip, my point about referrals is simply this: 'If customers aren't referring you it means your service is not remarkable.' I mean REMARKable - literally. Customers need to first notice your service, then talk about it. The problem is many customers are so focused on themselves that most of our services go unnoticed. That doesn't mean you need to jump through hoops for attention. It does mean you need to communicate differently. Contrast asking a customer, 'Do you want us to drop it off?' vs. 'Would it be helpful if we dropped it off for you?' Same offer - different words. The second however, is more likely to generate referrals.
As you plan strategies for growing your business, consider this shocking irony of marketing. The people and organizations that need your services the most are often the last ones you should be targeting. For example, people who live paycheck to paycheck would benefit by engaging a professional financial planner. Unfortunately, they may be financially strapped because they choose to buy lottery tickets instead of putting that same money into an RSP. As a financial planner, you'd be better off targeting higher net-worth individuals who use financial planners; focusing those who sense they are not getting enough attention from their current planner. That's why - when you're talking with an ideal potential client - less of your message needs to be about your product and service benefits. And more of your message should be focused on what makes your services different than others in your industry.
As a manager who sometimes deals directly with customers, are you too popular? Do customers, phoning with minor questions, often ask to speak with you directly - even though your frontline staff could take care of them? While it's flattering to be in demand as a manager or business owner, it's a poor allocation of resources. The challenge is how to get your customers to willingly opt to deal with frontline employees. My suggestion - have the employee say to the caller, 'Pat isn't available right now. If you'd like to leave a message she typically returns calls at the end of the day. Or perhaps there's something I can help you with right now?' Also a tip from my call centre seminars - ensure the employee enunciates (crispens consonants and rounds-out vowels) and speaks with a slightly lower pitch. That way, customers sense they're already dealing with an intelligent competent person.