Delivering really good service

Recently, my husband, Dave, and I were in the market for new bedding. It seemed like the last time we upgraded was too long ago to discuss. As usual, I did my homework, looking for the right sheets for a good night’s sleep, and almost everyone I asked told me to get 100% Egyptian cotton. In fact, two different salespeople, who were distracted with personal chatter, told me, “It’s the best!”

These folks apparently were trained to say that, and not taught anything about how to listen to what the customer is asking for. Everywhere I shopped, I told the sales pros, “I want sheets that are no-iron, wash and wear, and nice and soft!” The first place talked me into very expensive 778-thread-count Egyptian cotton, and when I got them home, they felt like sandpaper. I took them back and the sales pro told me to try 400-thread-count 100% Egyptian cotton, saying, “You won’t be sorry!” But I was. They were just a lighter grade of sandpaper, and they were also expensive, and very wrinkled. Back to the store with them!

It was becoming obvious that the terms “thread count” and “Egyptian cotton” are the bedding industry’s buzzwords. Also, if these sales pros had been totally devoted to helping me, they would have stayed by me and answered my questions.

Being a savvy consumer, I decided to look at our old sheets, which read 50% cotton, 50% polyester, and then I let my fingers do the walking through the websites of all our local stores’ bedding departments. Good old JCPenney had exactly what I was looking for, and when I went to the store, I was blessed with a salesperson who knew how to deliver really good service. She asked questions … and she listened to my needs.

In today’s business world, we have to ask questions. We have to learn exactly what customers are thinking. We can’t possibly steer them toward the right possibility without asking the right questions, and if we’re working with a committee, we have to be attentive to everyone’s opinion. There’s no industry buzzword product that we can push at customers – it’s all about them and the picture they hold in their mind’s eye of the product they want us to provide. Here are a couple of tips I wish more businesses would follow at their counters, on the phone, and over the Internet:

 

  • Listen attentively. One of the most important tips for providing really good service is to be absolutely tuned in to what the customer is saying. This means taking time to really “hear” without offering suggestions or giving opinions until it’s clear what they are asking for. Listen to their words, tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, hear how they feel. Don’t make assumptions. I consider myself to be an intuitive person, and I still can’t read customers’ minds. The first two sales “pros” that I encountered definitely did not tune in to what I wanted.
  • Be patient. Often, customers can be unclear, unsure, and not ready with the information needed to begin a project. Don’t interrupt or cut the customer off mid-stream. While it might be difficult to stay silent and take notes, it will let the customer know that you are completely interested in the project, and in working with them.
  • Try to learn everything you can about the customer so you can “tailor” the way the company will serve them.
  • Think creatively. Creative solutions to a customer’s needs help make happy customers.
  • Make customers feel important and appreciated. Treat them with courtesy and respect. Whether it’s in person or via phone, email, snail mail, or the Internet, every interaction leaves an impression. Let them know you really care about them and their business. Customers are sensitive to your own body language and facial expressions. They can “sense” it when you’re not being honest, ethical, and sincere.
  • Apologize if you’ve had to keep them waiting. Demonstrate your commitment to serving them quickly and completely.
  • Use the power of the word “yes!” Always be looking for ways to help customers get what they’re looking for. My college marketing professor always used to tell us, “Say yes first and then figure out how to make it work!” Then always do what you promise to do.
  • Give more than expected. Since the future of any company lies in keeping customers happy, and coming back for more, figure out what you can do for your customer that they can’t get elsewhere. Remember to say thank you. Follow up frequently, to see how things are going.
  • Give clients a way, and a chance, to give you feedback. Nothing keeps us on our toes more than what our customers think about us. We need to encourage and welcome their suggestions – and then act on them – or let them know why we can’t.
  • Repeat business is built on the experience your company provides.
  • Customers have ways of letting you know if they are displeased. Not too long ago, we were on a weekend adventure with friends. We were having breakfast at a well-known area family restaurant. Our server must not have wanted to work that Friday morning because he was less than accommodating, and consequently, his gratuity was reduced by the amount of “stress” he left at our table.
  • Focus on making friends and happy customers, not on making sales. Research shows it costs six times more to attract and gain a new client than it does to keep an existing one. Happy customers are the best advertising a company can have.
  • Make it easy to buy from your company. Whether in your store, in your catalogs, or on your website, eliminate all the hassle. Help customers easily find what they need, answer their questions, and do whatever is necessary to make buying from your company easy and, hopefully, a pleasant experience.

Some of our customers aren’t interested in learning everything we know about our companies. They just want a solution to their needs. There’s a tale about the person who asked a “braniac” what time it was, and the “braniac” told him how to build a watch. That’s not always what customers want, and if we’re listening, we’ll know that.

Really good customer service starts at the top. The best examples come down from management. Enthusiasm, courtesy, respect, attitude – those are the keys to beginning a long and fruitful customer/company relationship.

Next time you’re out looking for new sheets – or whatever – I hope you’re able to work with someone who clearly demonstrates and delivers really good customer service.

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