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 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
A highlight of my recent trip to Paris was stumbling across an amazing shop selling a stunning array of traditional kitchen ware. It looked like a museum piece; jammed full of every conceivable item from copper pots to pastry cutters. The stock levels were immense, the pricing system idiosyncratic, the staff plentiful and the trade brisk. But I found myself wondering how successful the business was.
Granted, the shop was aimed at the serious chef and restaurateur, yet they tolerated our presence good-naturedly despite the fact that we were obviously tourists. Have they just cleverly found their niche in a city that puts so much emphasis on good food and eating? Or are they simply living in the past?
On my return home I googled ‘Restaurant suppliers in Paris’ and up popped: E.Dehillerin Le specialiste du materiel de cuisine; I recognised the shop in an instant. OK, so their website could be better and the on-line ordering is a little basic, but somehow the business has survived from 1820 – 2012. Not bad going.
I wonder if E. Dehillerin have a social media strategy or are planning on launching an app any day soon? Probably not. Yet they do seem to have an enviable reputation amongst their target market and I found plenty of enthusiastic blog posts about them. They have clearly found their niche and are obviously supplying the right product range and service to keep generations of restauranteurs returning.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m happy to see that applying the basic foundations of marketing – knowing your customer, supplying the right product and providing good customer service – can still sustain a business in our high-tech world. Yes of course marketing methods have changed over the years, and will continue to do so at a rapid pace, yet the fundamental principles are still relevant.
My Christmas shopping this year has been characterised by the daily knock of the postman bringing a steady stream of brown parcels. 90% of them have something in common; the name emblazoned on the side of the box. To me it says good value and great service – you know who I’m talking about, my beloved Amazon.
As if I needed another reason to love the familiar Amazon brown boxes, one has come along this week in the shape of a parcel from…well lets just say…another company. It was a large box, totally incapable of being hidden, with a rather helpful picture and the name of the product on the outside. ‘Have I spoilt the surprise?’ asked the courier – too right you have!
I know that it’s entirely practical to have the product description on the outside of the box plus it makes great marketing sense to have your brand visible to potential customers at every available moment. I also appreciate that it would add considerable cost for additional packaging to disguise the product within. In fact, operationally, I can’t think of one good reason why you would not want a product picture and desciption on the outside of the box. From a customer service perspective though, I can think of many.
Understanding everything about your customer, including how and why they purchase your products, is a crucial part of your marketing. It’s hard to cover every eventuality, but if you can stand out from the crowd by thinking through the detail of your processes and making them as customer friendly as possible, you will surely find a loyal base of repeat customers who love to buy from you.
I made to a call to a company the other day and encountered a voicemail message telling me that the caller would return my call within 3 hours. I went away satisfied, able to get on with my work and confident that I would get a call back and didn’t need to make a mental note to call again.
In the same week I had an ‘out of office’ response to an email informing me that the recipient was working part-time this week as it was half-term and so may take a little longer than usual to get back to me. Too much information? I don’t think so. Again, I felt happy to be kept informed.
In contrast I ended up in an anonymous ‘phone queue the other day and, though I was probably only on hold for a minute, by the time I’d been blasted with ‘I’m in the mood for dancing’ I was in the mood for murder!
Unless you are operating in a truly time critical environment it seems to me that the best way to keep customers happy is to keep them informed. Think about what is an appropriate time scale to return a call or email in your particular business scenario, tell your customers when they can expect to hear from you and most important of all…stick to your promise.
Thinking about a brainstorm meeting I was due to have with a new client, I decided I needed a good, old-fashioned flip chart. Something simple, something portable that looked vaguely professional. A quick google search uncovered a handful of supplier websites and I’d soon selected the product I wanted. So far so good.
Before making my purchase there was just one detail I needed to check…the size of the flip chart. I clicked a tab entitled ‘product information’ to find… well… not a lot really. The distinct lack of detail stopped me in my tracks. I was ready, credit card in hand, to complete the purchase but one crucial detail was missing.
Mildly irritated, I picked up the phone to the customer services team; at least the number was easy to find on their website. The call was answered promptly and I felt sure I was on my way to finalising my purchase. Not so. The operator could not find the information and promised to call back. Which, inevitably, she didn’t.
What a waste of some really quite good marketing. Google ads taking them right to the top of the rankings, an easy to navigate and clear website plus a responsive call centre…but without the right basic product information for me, the customer, all utterly fruitless.
Look at your customer journey from end to end, including all the small stuff. It could just mean the difference between as successful marketing campaign and one that falls at the final hurdle.