[FROM APPAREL MAGAZINE JULY 2011]
No matter what your business, customer service will make or break you, on top of the product range you carry…
A widely quoted statistic gets to the heart of the value proposition behind customer service: The cost of acquiring a new customer is five times that of retaining an existing one. For businesses that succeed by forming a bond with the customer, the disparity is surely even greater.
Good customer service is essentially a variation on the golden rule : You want to meet the same expectations you would have if you were the customer. The basic things will never change, if people believe that they’re being remembered and are known to the business, that will have a positive impact on their disposition toward your business.
Follow these 11 tips, and your customers will be very happy, singing your virtues to many others!
1. Great Customer Service Begins With You – Simply put, the most inspiring leadership is by example. If you show indifference to your customers, your employees will mimic it. If you are enthusiastic and courteous, your troops are more likely to be so as well.
2. A Culture of Customer Service Must Be Codified – Start by hanging on the wall a set of core values, 10 or fewer principles that include customer service ideals. Share them during the training, have employees sign them, and evaluate employees based on the values. But don’t call them rules!
3. Employees Are Customers, Too – Companies renowned for their customer service – the online shoe retailer Zappos, for example – treat employees as they would have their employees treat their customers. Employees take on more responsibility because they know they are appreciated and an important part of the team. People who don’t feel like they’re part of the bigger picture, who feel like a small cog in a big machine, are not willing to go the extra mile.
4. Emphasize the Long Term – Short-term sales incentives (which are very prevalent in the apparel industry) can sometimes undermine long-term customer satisfaction. Prevent that by building short-term programs atop an ongoing program that rewards broader improvements.
5. Build Trust and Listen – Use your customer’s name whenever you can. And sometimes you have to give to get. The best salespeople spend 80 percent of their time listening, not talking. Ask open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s needs and wants. Once they’ve identified what they’re looking for, use their words throughout the process, that way, they’ve sold it for you.
If the prospect is “just looking,” don’t press further. But be discreetly nearby. Straighten the racks, or dust something, you need to be within earshot or eyeshot, because every retail sale involves a re-approach. Wholesale sales are the same, never be too far away from the pending customer…
6. Sometimes It’s the Little Things That Matter – Small gestures that anticipate customers’ needs or attend to their comforts – such as offering a glass of water or a children’s area with toys – go a long way toward winning them over. As a wholesaler you can blow their socks off too (just have a think on how you can do this, or contact me for ideas!).
7. If You Can’t Help a Customer, Point to an Establishment That Can – Saying “You might try Smith’s, on Main Street” won’t make nearly as strong an impression as confirming that Smith’s has the item in question and giving directions to Main Street. This is the ultimate in customer service, that customer will be back.
8. Show Your Appreciation – One important element of retaining customers is communication. I’d suggest a personalized thank-you note after a deal or sale or a follow up phone call – If Nordstrom’s can do it, everybody can do it!
9. Treat Your Best Customers Better – If your company relies on a relatively small number of clients to provide a disproportionately large share of revenue, it makes sense to devote a disproportionate amount of time and energy to serving them.
10. Resolving Customer Disputes
It’s bad enough when a customer is unhappy with your product or service. But if the attempt to redress the problem is frustrating or fruitless, it makes matters much worse. A satisfied customer may tell one or two friends about your company, but “an angry customer might tell a dozen.” Some aggrieved customers can never be placated, but, more often, successful dispute resolution lies in a business owner’s hands.
- Solve the problem when it occurs. It’s always best when people on the floor or in the field are the first line of response. Vest them with authority to resolve certain types of problems themselves. In apparel, by like Toyota the car maker and when there is a problem with your product (it happens to all of us at some stage, no matter how robust your quality control systems), get on the front foot right now, do not wait for your customers to notice the issue and for them to raise it with you.
- Don’t forget salesmanship. The skills and techniques of good selling discussed earlier are even more valuable in difficult situations. Address customers by name, and repeat what they’ve said. Whether you resolve the issue or not, they’ll see that you have their best interest in mind.
- The power of the unhappy customer now being happy. When you turn someone who is moaning around, and you really satisfy them, watch the power of their advocacy of you grow and grow. If you resolve the issue to their satisfaction, it is proven that they will buy more from you and they will tell other consumers or businesses to but from you! They will become your biggest raving fans…
11. Hiring for Service
For employees who interact with customers, technical proficiency at the job isn’t enough. Nor is passion for your product or service. Staff members who deal with customers ought to be intuitive, empathetic, and good listeners. Ask them to give you examples of good service they have received (or given) in the past and for them to explain to you “why was it so good”? Quickly you will see whether they really know what good service means.
I see numerous examples of good and bad service each day. The best companies have consistent service standards no matter what location you go to or who you talk to on the phone or email. Fundamentally it all boils down to an “attitude thing”. You are either a service-orientated person, who wants to please customers or you are someone who does not truly believe that the customer is king. If you do not believe in the power of the customer, I hope that you are not the boss or owner of the company, as your team will not be inspired or taught (by observation of you) to give good service… If you are struggling in business and lets face it, a lot of apparel companies these days, like the greater business community are struggling, I would suggest you have a long, hard look at the service that you give and that your company, or team or location “exudes”.
If you would like an objective view on whether your service standards are up to scratch or want some ideas on how to blow the socks off your customers and how to grow your profitability, please say hi to me. It’d be great to be able to help take your business to the next level. It is possible! firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 775 660. Check out www.businesschanging.com