(Jan 02, 2011)
Think about the last time you had a negative buying experience. Did an e-commerce site fail to respond to your email query? Did a sales associate at your neighborhood computer store fail to know the difference between a floppy drive and a hard drive? Perhaps you were left on hold for an inordinate amount of time when you called a mail-order company's toll-free line.
Negative buying experiences are almost always linked to shoddy customer service. Even though most businesses claim that they put people first, it's rare to find good customer support.
But customer service isn’t extinct. In fact, after consumer groups and the media took potshots last year at e-commerce sites for leaving customers in the lurch, many businesses began to focus more attention on their service.
Strong customer service is a business essential. Providing it isn’t as difficult if you and your employees achieve these 10 basic rules:
1. Commit to quality service.Everyone in the company needs to be devoted to creating a positive experience for the customer. Always try to go above and beyond customer expectations.
2. Know your products. Convey an articulate and in-depth knowledge of products and services to win customer trust and confidence. Know your company’s products, services, and return policies inside and out. Try to anticipate the types of questions that customers will ask. Update and amend your FAQ page frequently.
3. Know your customers. Try to learn everything you can about your customers in order to tailor your service approach to their needs and buying habits. Talk to customers about their experience with your company, and listen to their complaints. In this way, you can get to the root of customer dissatisfaction.
4. Treat people with courtesy and respect. Remember that every time that you, your employees, and your colleagues make contact with a customer — whether it’s by email, phone, written correspondence, or a face-to-face meeting — the interaction leaves an impression with that customer. Use conciliatory phrases — "Sorry to keep you waiting," "Thanks for your order," "You’re welcome," and "It’s been a pleasure helping you" — to demonstrate not only your commitment to customer satisfaction but your dedication to courtesy.
5. Never argue with a customer. You know very well that the customer isn’t always right. However, it is important that you do not focus on the missteps of a particular situation; instead, concentrate on how to fix it. Research shows that 7 out of 10 customers will do business with a company again if that business resolves a complaint in their favor.
6. Don’t leave customers in limbo. Repairs, callbacks, and emails need to be handled with a sense of urgency. Customers want immediate resolution, and if you can give it to them, you will probably win their repeat business. Research shows that the instance of repeat business goes up to 95 percent when complaints are resolved on the spot.
7. Always provide what you promise. Fail to do this and you’ll lose both credibility and customers. If you guarantee a quote within 24 hours, get the quote out in a day or less. If and when you neglect to make good on your promise, apologize to the customer and offer some type of compensation, such as a discount or free delivery. Overall, only make promises that you are confident that you and your business can keep.
8. Assume that your customers tell the truth. Even though it may appear that customers lie to manipulate a situation to their advantage, it is to your advantage to give them the benefit of the doubt. The majority of customers don’t like to complain; in fact, they’ll go out of their way — perhaps all the way to a competitor — to avoid it. If you hear unhappy rumblings from your customers, take their complaints to heart and do your best to appease their dissatisfaction.
9. Focus on making customers — not on sales. Salespeople, especially those who get paid on commission, sometimes focus on the volume instead of on the quality of the sale. Remember that to keep a customer’s business is more important than to close a sale. Research shows that it costs six times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Moreover, happy customers are the best and most effective way to find new customers.
10. Make it easy to buy. The buying experience in your store, on your Web site, or through your catalog should be as easy as possible. Eliminate unnecessary paperwork and forms, help people to find what they need, explain how products work, and do whatever else you can to facilitate transactions.
Source: "Ten Rules for Great Customer Service" AllBusiness.com.