I’ve had the pleasure of making some big purchases recently and have come across both good and bad sales and service in the process. The products in question were a kitchen and new flooring. Both come with a degree of risk for the seller in as much as there is an element of the unknown – what state will the sub-floor be in when the existing flooring is removed, will the old kitchen come out without pulling plaster off the wall or will we find some, yet unseen, horror when we start work?
I’m under no illusion, it’s a tricky balance between telling a potential customer all they need to know and scaring them half to death with too much information. You run the risk of putting a potential customer off by giving them every horror story or what-if scenario. Equally though there is nothing more damaging long-term than a customer that thinks they have been cheated or not told the whole story.
It’s important to try to get to know your potential customer and to judge how much information they want; some customer want every detail, others prefer edited highlights. Which ever type of prospect they turn out to be, it’s important that you are clear and straight with them. If, after they have signed on the dotted line, you hear yourself muttering any of the following, you know you’ve got a problem:
- It’s in the terms and conditions: small print is there for a reason and it should protect both you and the buyer. If anything really significant is ‘hidden’ in your terms and conditions, point it out to your potential customer
- My colleague should have told you that: if you have different people dealing with sales and say surveying or installation, make sure everyone is clear where their responsibility lies.The customer doesn’t care who’s job it is and they will judge your company based on all the people they come in contact with, not just the sales people
- Lots of our customers complain about that: whether it’s an extra charge for accepting a credit card or something the customer thought was included that you later tell them is extra, if your customers are telling you they don’t like it, do something about it. I’m not saying you have to waive charges, but just make it clear from the outset so that complaints don’t arise later down the line
- That’s not our job: this is particularly irksome for a customer when they perceive that it should logically be part of the job. I use the example of kitchen installation; if you buy kitchen cabinets and appliance from your kitchen installer would you expect their installation quote to include electrics and plumbing so that those appliances that they have designed into your kitchen, actually work? I suspect most laypeople would answer ‘yes’. Telling your customer that ‘kitchen installation’ only includes the cabinets is likely to leave them with a bad taste. Again, make it crystal clear what you mean, don’t use jargon that is likely to confuse, and you won’t have that problem to deal with.
It’s simple really. Put yourself in your customers shoes – what do they know, what do they expect from you and how does this match up to what you are giving them. For sure, not all your competitors will be ‘doing it right’ and you may lose a few sales on price but, rest assured, in the long run the good reputation you will build by doing things properly will build a sustainable business.
I have been exploring local sponsorship opportunities on behalf of a client over the last few days. My starting point was the local Council website which stated that sponsorship arrangements were outsourced to a third-party. I checked out their website and it all looked very promising; even their name, Immediate Solutions, gave me confidence that they would deliver!I duly contacted them and was promised a call back.
Sadly, one small element just didn’t stack up. You guessed it; they were anything but ‘immediate’! In fact, I’ve still not heard a word from them.
Here are a few golden rules that I believe all small businesses should stick to if they want to win customers and keep them coming back:
- Keep your promises – or put another way, deliver what you promise. If you can’t give an immediate response, don’t offer it; it may not even be important to your customers. Find out what is important to them and make sure you deliver it.
- Be consistent – it’s no good having a brilliant website if there is no substance behind it. You may win customers in the first place but you will surely struggle to hang onto them. Think through your customer journey, including mapping out all your customer ‘touch points’, and make sure that each stage of the process works.
- Manage expectations – although some things are obviously truly ‘urgent’, most aren’t. If you tell your customers that it will take 24 hours for you to respond, most will accept that. The truism – ‘under promise, over deliver’ may be cheesy, but it does make sense!
These are all ways that small businesses can often out-perform larger, more complex organisations, so make sure you build them into your overall service delivery.
I’ve just witnessed a frankly stunning display of how technology, designed to improve customer experience can, in the wrong hands, have the reverse effect. My local dentist has installed a touch screen appointment log-in system – you’ve no doubt come across them; touch a few buttons on-screen and it confirms you are in the right place at the right time. Simple. In this case though something obviously went wrong. I overheard a customer asking the receptionist when the dentist was likely to see him (he had already been waiting for half an hour), only to be told that he had not logged in correctly.
Strangely the receptionist felt that this was a sufficient explanation. The other patients, myself included, did our best to hide the relief that it hadn’t happened to us! I didn’t hear the end of the exchange; suffice to say the guy was still in the waiting room when I left after my appointment though.
So who is to blame? The product developers for inventing something that may solve one problem but also creates a series of other issues, the sales person who sold the system inappropriately ( the surgery probably doesn’t need that level of sophistication), the receptionist who handled the human interaction so badly, or the marketer that forgot to think about the customer and allowed the technology to take centre stage? One thing is certain, it’s not the customers fault!
It’s easy to see how this kind of situation could arise in a big corporate environment where communication between armies of product developers, marketers, sales people and front line staff may not be perfect. But how can it happen in a small provincial dental surgery? How could they have lost sight of the customer so completely?
Great customer service is a team effort and everyone, from marketing through front line staff, should be aware that they have a part to play. Put your customers at the centre of your business decisions and you have a much better chance of delivering consistently good service.
I have just signed a new mobile phone contract with my existing supplier that gives me a lesser package at a higher price than I could have got from a competitor. Fact is, I accepted a plan that will cost me almost 40% more and has fewer benefits; so how did they persuade me to part with my cash and why was I happy to do so?
In simple terms the downside of moving my contract to a new supplier outweighed the benefits they were offering.
Here are some of the reasons I stayed:
- inertia (well I’m only human!): I was looking for reasons to stay with my existing supplier as I didn’t really want the hassle of changing. This meant that I was receptive when they offered me an incentive to stay. As it turned out, it didn’t even need to be a particularly great offer to retain my business
- good service: I have always had good (though not outstanding) service from my existing supplier
- value added offers: My existing supplier has sent regular offers and incentives over the years, which have continued to remind me that I am a valued customer
- brand familiarity: I don’t consider myself to be a particularly brand loyal person, but having trusted in this brand for some 10 years, I certainly feel I know what I’m getting.
In contrast, I did decide to move my broadband contract a few months ago. In this case I felt that my existing supplier offered a mediocre service at a high rate and made absolutely no effort to add value or to retain me as a customer!
While this example relates to a highly competitive market dominated by big organisations, the messages translate to small, medium and even micro businesses. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t advocate building a customer retention model based on the premise that your customers can’t really be bothered to move to a new supplier, your aim should be to ensure that they don’t want to move. If your existing clients are happy with you, you will have a fighting chance of keeping them regardless of what tactics your competitors are using to try to poach them.
Existing customers are a really valuable asset to your business so make sure you are looking after them well.
I normally leave marketing ‘buzz’ words at the door when I’m talking to owner managers and generally stick to jargon-free explanations. I have, however, recently found myself using the term ‘customer experience’ more and more. Why? Because, for me, it is the very essence of good marketing and a really useful concept for small business owners to embrace.
In simple terms customer experience is the sum of all the ways that customers come in contact with your product or service. It includes the moment when a potential customer first becomes aware of your product, through to buying it, using it and, hopefully recommending it to others. The benefit of looking at customer experience as a whole – as opposed to looking at marketing, sales and customer service etc as separate entities – is that you are less likely to miss some vital part of the process.
Let me give you an example of where failing to look at the whole process turned a good customer experience bad in a matter of minutes. Here is how the story goes. I won a prize in a charity raffle a few weeks ago; it was a voucher for a new clothes shop in my high street. Having walked passed the shop many times since it opened I decided to finally venture in. Once inside the shop I was impressed by the variety of items they stocked, the staff were friendly but not pushy and the prices represented good value. So far my customer experience was all positive. I tried a couple of things on and decided so buy one of them. I handed over my credit card and the voucher…and then the crunch came. The staff member looked suspiciously at the voucher and didn’t hide the fact she was unsure what to do with it; she called another staff member and they loudly discussed the fact that they hadn’t seen such a voucher before. Another staff member soon joined them. Now faced with three staff members looking bemused, a queue forming behind me and feeling distinctly embarrassed, my instinct was to flee the shop never to return. Luckily common sense took over and I finally managed to make the purchase. I won’t be rushing back though and I certainly wouldn’t buy a gift voucher there!
It seems such a basic mistake to make – not communicating a promotional offer to front line staff – and unforgivable for a small company where lines of communication are short. It could have easily been avoided by simply mapping out the process and (hopefully) spotting the flaw in the plan in advance.
Image courtesy of http://tomfishburne.com/cartoons