Valentine’s Day is just around the corner—and it’s time to show the most important person in your small business some love—your customers.
Sure your relationship was exciting at first. You were thrilled to see that new someone. You went the extra mile in service, gave them sign-up bonuses and introductory offers. But after a while, you started taking them for granted. After all, sometimes they’d bother you in the middle of your work day, make a demand, ask for attention.
But now, your relationship with your small business customers is in a rut. This Valentine’s Day, it’s time to fall in love again with your customers.
Let’s remember one important thing: it’s a whole lot harder—and more expensive—to land a new customer than it is to keep existing customers. But, often, small businesses (and big corporations too!) spend more time courting new business than focusing on serving the customers they worked so hard to get.
What’s the best way to keep customers in love with you—and keep them coming back?
Customer service is essential
In a small business, you’re rarely competing on price. Your customers have chosen you in large part because they like the way you make them feel—that they’re taken care of, that you know who they are, that you have a RELATIONSHIP.
That makes customer service in small businesses all the more important.
Some small businesses assume they’re doing just fine if they don’t get many complaints. That’s an unreliable measure. The unhappy customer who does NOT complain is almost certainly a lost customer.
These days, unhappy customers can do you a lot of harm. They can spread their disappointment through social media and review sites like a virus. At least a customer who complains gives you a chance to make the problem right.
So, it’s your job to make certain that customers have little reason for complaints. Training all employees—from the shipping clerk to the sales representative—in customer service can pay off handsomely for you, in customer retention and referrals. Build sufficient flexibility into your policies so that you can easily handle unusual or difficult requests. Empower employees to make certain decisions on the spot (such as accepting returns) instead of requiring each customer request to be approved by a manager. Make it easy for your customers to let you know what they want, by soliciting customer suggestions and feedback.
For some small business owners—and their employees—the first step in providing great customer service is an attitude adjustment. Approach interactions with customers as a means to nurture the relationship, not just to execute a transaction.
If you want your customer service—your customer RELATIONSHIPS—to shine, remember these four keys to excellent customer service:
1. Be honest about everything.
Honesty is not only the right thing, it also directly affects your ability to make sales, retain customers, and (ultimately) stay in business. If you cheat, misrepresent, overcharge—expect that all to show up on online review sites really fast.
2. Promise only what you can deliver.
This has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and how you’ll be rated. It’s much better to underpromise and overdeliver than to oversell and overhype and then disappoint your customers.
3. Follow through with commitments.
If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Period. If you promise to be available 365/24/7, whether to fix their plumbing or fix their app, you better make sure you’re available on Saturday nights and Christmas Eve too.
4. Make it easy for customers to contact you.
When you have an unhappy customer on your hands—and no matter what you do, eventually you will—you don’t want them to become more frustrated by not being able to get in touch with you. Provide an online contact form, phone number, or an email address and be responsive. You should also check for inquiries on your Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites.
Good customer relationships—just like any relationships—take attention and care. If you forget about the other party (in this case your small business customer), they’ll forget about you. So this Valentine’s Day—and every day—show your customers the love.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on February 6, 2015