Sometimes, I’m truly amazed at how badly customer service is handled by some small businesses. Excellent customer service should be one of the main reasons customers repeatedly choose your small business over your larger competitors. But more often than need be, small business owners are guilty of making obvious mistakes that keep customers from coming back. Find out how you can outshine your competitors by avoiding the following:
The Customer is King—except that quite a few business owners have forgotten that truism in the age of Yelp. Just the other day a friend of mine posted a negative review of a well-known local restaurant here in Austin on Yelp, and the owner had the brilliant idea to reply to my friend’s comment. The owner replied that my friend was mistaken in his assessment—and that was all. Even after my friend described how the undercooked food had made him sick, the owner had the nerve to tell him he was mistaken about the “freshness” of the food served. Imagine the irritation and resentment caused!
Tip: Never respond to a customer’s comments publicly. Though it may be your gut reaction to negative feedback, arguing achieves nothing. If you do decide to respond, don’t simply argue with your customers to preserve your reputation; make the situation better for them. Give them a reason at the very least to delete the negative review and at most to give your business a second chance. (Check out Negative Online Reviews: When Should You Respond and How?)
Customers tend to freak out when the actual customer experience is inconsistent with their expectations of the product or service. What drove my friend to post the Yelp review was that the waitress at the restaurant had hyped the dessert and created an expectation of high quality in his mind. The food, however, came nowhere close to meeting the expectation created.
Tip: Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t break promises. Establish and implement policies, such as giving discounts, refunds or compensations, to ensure customer satisfaction when the promise is broken. Make sure your employees are aware of the policies and follow through when the situation calls for it.
“You can’t please everyone,” as the saying goes. True, but you should try your hardest to. The restaurant owner’s very curt response to a well-articulated review displays a total disregard for not only the customer’s feedback, but also for real problems going on in his kitchen. I suspect that other Yelp users who view the restaurant owner’s curt response will quickly recognize that he didn’t attempt to solve the problems mentioned or seem to care much about the customer. Turning a blind eye to customer feedback is just plain foolish and can damage the credibility of your business.
Tip: Do everything possible to get customer feedback before the customer walks out the door. Don’t underestimate the use of the comment card; it gives customers a chance to vent and voice negative opinions before they go online and do damage. Offer customers a reward for their feedback, and let them know that their comments help you improve your service. Sometimes, just knowing that a company is working to improve things is enough to get me to stick around.
So, your product is so good that you can afford to let customer service slide. You tell yourself that customers will keep coming back because nobody else offers the product you have…right? Wrong. It’s entirely possible for some new and better competitor to come out with a comparable product and better customer service. When that happens, you’ll definitely lose out.
Here at ChooseWhat.com, we’ve seen the scenario one too many times. A company that offers a truly great product or service but doesn’t work on improving customer service loses customers, as well as respect.
Tip: Gather feedback while customers are using your product or service. A prime example of gathering user feedback is Benchmark Email, an email marketing company who has just implemented a Twitter-like forum that allows users to submit feature requests and vote for their own and/or other customers’ submissions.
5.Forgetting Your Friends
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.”
–Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com
Thanks to the rise of social media and social networking, customers can now share their customer service experiences to thousands of people with the click of a button. This simply means that business owners need to work harder and be smarter about how they approach customer service. It helps to think of each customer as a personal friend of yours. Depending on how you act, a friend might either fully endorse you and your brand or gossip and spread rumors about you behind your back. Worst of all, they might remain silent, having not formed an impression of you one way or another.
Tip: Businesses, like friendships, are built on loyalty and trust. Spend some time working on how you interact with people. Everyone in customer service needs to read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. If every person in customer service followed everything in that book, businesses would infinitely improve customer retention and nobody would ever be disgruntled.
When I said avoid these customer service mistakes “at all costs,” I literally meant all costs. No matter how much money, time or effort you have to spend up front to prevent customers from jumping ship, do it. It just might save your business entirely.