When it comes to winning new customers and ensuring the loyalty of long-standing ones in today’s competitive marketplace, it can sometimes seem like the large firms have all the firepower. They have more resources, bigger budgets, brand-name recognition, wider geographical coverage and the ability to leverage economies of scale. Fortunately for small businesses, there’s a cost-effective way to stand out – world-class customer service.
Perhaps your firm can’t provide products and services as cheaply as your larger rivals, but you can do it better. The key is to build a service-oriented culture that pervades your entire firm.
Identify the Components of Outstanding Customer Service
Working at a small company, your employees likely already have the necessary familiarity with the preferences and needs of your customer base. Your goal is to help your staff realize their full potential by encouraging them to further develop the qualities essential for customer service. These include:
Empathy. Good service is possible when your workers can see things from the customer’s perspective and understand his or her unique priorities. This will enable them to anticipate rather than merely react to customers’ concerns.
Responsiveness. When responding to customer requests, complaints and concerns, employees must take communication to the next level. For example, it’s not enough to merely inform a customer that a product is back-ordered and give an estimated delivery date. Instead, employees should be trained to immediately suggest a comparable substitute, or offer to provide the customer with regular updates about the status of the order.
Gratitude. Train your staff to always make a point of thanking customers for their patronage. You can also let your customers know you value their business through special promotions and VIP programs. Involve your team by asking them to brainstorm creative ways to show customer appreciation.
Friendliness. Make sure your employees understand that every transaction is an opportunity to nurture a long-term relationship with the customer. Even if an interaction is not completely positive or perfect (e.g., the customer is dissatisfied and wants to return the product for a refund), show your employees how to turn the situation into a chance to strengthen the relationship. For example, in addition to refunding the customer’s money, employees could perhaps offer discount coupons or free shipping on a future order.
Problem-solving mindset. To set a higher bar for service, encourage your staff to see themselves not simply as salespeople or customer service representatives, but as “solution providers” who have the ability to help customers achieve their goals. With this mindset, employees will tend to look for ways to provide the kind of attentive, quality service customers deserve.
Train Staff with Engaging, Interactive Techniques
It’s not enough to talk with your staff about customer service in the abstract. They need targeted support to develop the necessary traits. By using a variety of techniques, you can help employees envision – and even act out – common service situations and the most appropriate responses. Get your employees actively involved with the following techniques:
Role playing. Have your staff take turns acting out scenarios such as “first-time shopper,” “angry customer,” “browser” or “prospective client.” This approach is more effective than verbal instruction because it literally puts your employees in the customers’ place, experiencing the transaction from the “other side.” They’ll also have a chance to practice their service skills and give each other instant feedback and helpful tips.
Take a “reverse engineering” approach. Have employees start at the goal (a satisfied customer) and work their way backward, outlining the steps it takes to get there. Have them analyze the role of all those involved – from the salespeople on the floor or during a phone call to the “back office” staff who tracks inventory, handles shipping and conducts quality checking. Make sure they pay attention to how various departments can support one another in a successful transaction. Similarly, they can evaluate unsuccessful customer services episodes and brainstorm ways to avoid problems in the future.
Equip them to succeed. Provide training in conflict resolution, communication, diplomacy, negotiation, active listening and other service-related skills. Cost-effective options include online courses, webinars, podcasts and seminars.
One of the most effective ways to foster a service-oriented culture at your firm is to set the example yourself. Treat both customers and staff with courtesy, gratitude, patience and professionalism. When employees excel at service, publicly praise their efforts. On those occasions when you have to correct mistakes or missteps, do so in private. Avoid blaming or criticizing the employee. Instead, discuss the changes he or she can make to deliver better service in the future.
About Robert Half International
Founded in 1948, Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm, is a recognized leader in professional staffing services. The company’s specialized staffing divisions include Accountemps(R), Robert Half(R) Finance & Accounting and Robert Half(R) Management Resources, for temporary, full-time and senior-level project professionals, respectively, in the fields of accounting and finance; OfficeTeam(R), for highly skilled temporary administrative support personnel; Robert Half(R) Technology, for information technology professionals; Robert Half(R) Legal, for legal personnel; and The Creative Group(R), for advertising, marketing and web professionals. Robert Half International has staffing and consulting operations in more than 400 locations worldwide.