Customer service is the essential growth engine for any company finding its footing in the entrepreneurial world. You don’t have the luxury today of building a business as it was done in the Mad Men era, when you could hire a Don Draper-level marketing genius who could use mass marketing messages to make almost any product or service sell. All you had to do was write your ad agency a check.
No Longer a Mad Men World
Today’s breed of customers make buying decisions based on their own customer experiences and the experiences of the people they listen to, online and off. They aren’t moved by the kind of marketing slogans that held sway in the past. So the best investment you can possibly make is to apply your time, effort, and focus where they matter most and go the farthest: towards improving your customer service and the experience customers have with your company. If you do that, you can then sit back and watch as the satisfied and delighted customers you’ve created grow your business—its reputation and its bottom line—for you.
And if you don’t? If you neglect your customer connections and fail to build a superior customer service experience at your growing business? Your customers will, quickly and dangerously, start to view your service or product offering as merely a commodity, viewing it interchangeable with the competition, and ultimately putting your very survival at risk.
Here are five fundamental principles that can keep you out of this danger zone and on to the path of customer-driven business growth.
1. Use the “plus-one” approach to deliver wow customer service every day.
Giving the customer what they asked for, plus a little more, is a way to make sure you wow your customers almost every time you interact. The plus-one you provide can be a “do extra”: giving more of your effort than your customer asked for or reasonably could expect. Or it can be a “tell extra”: answering an important question the customer didn’t think to ask, or going deeper in your answer, or serving as the empathetic ear the customer really needed on the particular day they called. Practice “plus one” customer service religiously, and you’ll soon be watching your company become a customer-service legend.
2. Plan for them to be upset.
As in the classic Volvo ads explaining how they plan for their cars to (survivably) be in a wreck, you need to expect and be ready for things to go wrong when working with customers. Every great customer-focused company has a framework for “service recovery”—the process of working with upset customers. Their employees receive training on this framework long before any actual customer is breathing fire down their neck. Marriott’s service recovery mnemonic spells LEARN (Listen, Empathize, Apologize, React, Notify); Starbucks’ memorably spells LATTE (Listen, Acknowledge, Thank, Take Action, Explain).
If you don’t already have a service recovery framework in place at your company, it’s time to put one in place, perhaps the MAMA customer service recovery framework as covered in the linked article. There’s reason to remain optimistic, even in the face of your most initially upset customer: Studies show that the previously upset customer you successfully turn around is actually the customer who is most likely to become truly loyal and an ambassador for your brand.
3. Aim to build a company where there’s a “default of yes.”
Do you know that feeling when you walk into a customer-focused establishment (a Nordstrom department store or Forbes Five Star hotel are prime examples): how you’re immediately able to sense that everyone working there is eager say “yes” to you as a customer; they’re just waiting to hear your specific request? These organizations have a “default of yes,” an expectation that they’ll be able to deliver for you whatever you need; they just need to find out what that is.
Strive to build a similar default of yes at your company, and leave it to your competition to say “no” to their customers. Sooner or later, those customers will be yours.
4. Hire for customer-friendly attributes, then train to enhance them.
Be sure to add customer-friendly personality traits to your hiring criteria, in addition to whatever technical skills you’re requiring for a position. (Here’s a list of customer-centric personality skills to integrate into your hiring approach.) Then, provide extensive customer service training until you transform your promising new employees into true service superstars. Also remember that today your options for customer service training include customer service eLearning products as well as traditional in-person training.
5. Leverage positive peer pressure.
Once you’ve hired your second or third customer-friendly employee and trained them in the kind of customer service approaches laid out in this article, you’ll be in the enviable position of potentially building an unstoppable force: positive peer pressure. Have you ever wondered why the employees in an Apple Store are so positive and helpful? It’s because they’ve been hired for their personalities and trained along the lines of this article for sure, but it’s also because of how it then became clear to any newly arriving employee (or veteran employee who was having a bad day) that the way things are done around here is to be friendly and helpful to customers.
This is the power of positive peer pressure: it uplifts all employees and keeps their heads up if they’re ever tempted to lapse or relapse into a more negative posture.
Positive peer pressure, however, can be easily undermined by a boss who lets a bad day or even a bad commute cause them to audibly or visibly be anti-customer even for a moment in front of employees. So watch those public pronunciations about “impossible” customers and customers who are “always taking advantage.” Vent only in private.
Ready to read about the next stage of small business growth? Click here.