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The DOs and DON'Ts of Creating an OUTSTANDING Customer Service Experience
Posted By Victoria WoW September 2nd, 2013
You know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of inadequate customer service. The subtle annoyance you feel when you are on the hunt for something specific, and you make your way around the entire shop without a single salesperson acknowledging your presence. The overbearing sales clerk that wants to sell you a new lamp when all you really need is a new bulb. The frustration of being sent on a wild goose chase from department to department in search of an answer to a pretty simple question (and isn't this worse when you are on the phone?) The technical whiz kid that plies you with a stream of "cool" features that could describe, for all you know, the interior workings of either a space rover or a smart phone.
And when you receive really terrible service (we know you have at least one gasp-inducing story), what do you do?
YOU TELL EVERYONE.
Big corporations can often weather the storm of a few dissatisfied customers because they have hundreds of thousands of other customers to fill the void. And big companies, many of whom generate more sales online than in their bricks-and-mortar locations, don't even necessarily rely on the personal customer service experience.
For those of us who run small local businesses -who interact with our clients in person, over the phone, or via personal email - we rely largely on word-of-mouth referrals, and we can definitely feel the impact if our reputation within our community is compromised.
As small businesses we may not be able to compete on volume, selection or price. The edge we can have over the big guys, and especially the big online guys, is the ability to service our customers with personalized attention.To help you avoid the dreaded pitfalls of poor customers service, and all the unintended consequences that can impact your business, here are:
The DOs and DON'Ts of Creating an OUTSTANDING Customer Service Experience.
DO turn yourself into a compassionate detective.
Think about your favourite TV detective. What makes them good at what they do? What techniques do they use to solve their crime?
- Observe first. Before offering any opinions or theories, they take note of the "scene". With your customer, take a moment to notice her mood, her subtle behaviour, her body language. Does she seem excited? Stressed? Focused? Indifferent? Who has accompanied her? Is this someone who will influence her decision, or someone who is there for support?
- Ask smart, probing questions. Close-ended questions (ones that illicit a "yes" or "no" response, ex. "Are you getting married in the fall?") make use of your assumptions about what she needs. With a customer (and a crime suspect), the trick to understanding more about the situation is to get her talking in her own words. Use open-ended questions (ones that start with WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, & HOW, ex. "When are your getting married?"). And continue to observe. Pick up on the EMOTIONS she is revealing as she speaks (this will be important later!).
- Silently reveal your understanding. Resist the urge to interrupt while she is sharing her story. Instead, use subtle gestures to demonstrate you are listening (nod your head, occasionally say "yes", "ok", "uh-huh"). If you must interrupt, frame it as a question to gain clarity.
- Summarize your hypothesis. Based on everything you have observed - her behaviour, her company, her story, her emotions - share with your customer a summary of what you know about her situation. This is called active listening, and it is perhaps the most effective way to build trust with your customer. Being skilled at this technique proves to your bride that you have heard what she has said. Be sure to include any observations about her emotions, as this will demonstrate that you empathize.
"OK, so you are getting married in the fall, and you have 120 people on your guest list. You want to have an outdoor wedding to celebrate the natural fall colours, but you are nervous that the weather won't cooperate. Does that sound right?"
DON'T sell what you have.
You already know you have the right product/service/venue/etc. for her wedding event. She wouldn't have come to you if she didn’t already suspect you could help. You know your product knowledge (or at least you should!), and you have probably mastered a way to describe your products' features, advantages and benefits. Unless you have observed that your customer has an in-depth knowledge of your industry or business, avoid bombarding her with technical features or industry jargon. What is important to you (even what was important to your last customer) is probably very different than what is important to the bride that is standing in front of you now.
Do not sell what you have. Sell her what she needs. When you choose words that describe your product/service/venue/etc. based on what she has told you she needs (this is where all your keen detective observation skills are put to good use), she is more likely to "say yes to the dress." This aspect of human behaviour is simple: we trust those that understand and agree with us, and we find it harder to say no when someone seems to be on our side.
"We are the perfect venue for you. We have a beautiful garden that features perennial flowers and trees that look beautiful in the fall, so you will the have natural colours to suit your décor. Plus, we also partner with a fantastic rental company that can supply tents to keep your guests dry. And if the weather is really blustery, we also have a gorgeous ballroom that holds 120 people, so you won’t have to worry about a thing."
DON'T keep a sale hanging.
In my years as a sales trainer, the aspect of the sales process that most people struggle with is closing the sale. You have spent all this time building your customer's trust. You have let her tell her story. You have demonstrated your active listening skills. You have shown her empathy. You have offered her solutions based on what she has told you and what you have observed. If you have done your job, she should be ready to sign on the dotted line.
But she is not necessarily going to take this initiative herself. You need to express confidence that you have what she needs. This is where you must take control, and lead her to the next logical step: you must ask for the sale. But how?
There are many techniques to closing a sale, and there is one that will suit your personality or the situation most appropriately. But I am not going to give away the farm here. Instead, I am going to invite you to the farm (that would be Kildara Farm) on September 10th for WoW's Autumn Barnburner, where my colleague, fellow writer and sales guru, Mike Wicks and I will lead you through a hands-on workshop on how to overcome objections and effectively close a sale.
RSVP now to secure your spot. So sneaky. Talk about leaving you hanging.
DO follow through with your promises.
We have all heard the ideal commitment to "under-promise and over-deliver". As small business owners who face competition at every level of our market, we want to please our customers, and we want them to make a decision on the spot. But resist the urge to make a sale by making a promise you are not 100% confident you can keep. Disappointing customers, even on the smallest scale, can undo all the trust you have built. If you say you are going to get back to your customer with an answer by Tuesday, call her on Tuesday even if you don’t have the answer yet, or the answer is not what she wants to hear.
DON'T ever say "NO".
Yes, I did just recommend following through on your promises even if it is not what your customer wants to hear. But you must avoid saying the word "NO". You must also avoid saying "We can't…", "It is not possible...", etc. If you must disappoint your customer, make sure you have a back-up solution. Obviously you want to keep their business, so strategize first what possible alternatives you can offer.
"I regret that the gardens are booked for the day you requested. Can I offer you this day instead? Or would you consider holding the ceremony on our beautiful patio, and the reception in our ballroom?"
Also, do express empathy, but try not to over-apologize. This can diminish trust in her eyes, and weaken your approach to doing business, which is to satisfy all your clients. Stick to the facts, and focus on offering solutions.
If all else fails, then don't be afraid to recommend another WoW Member. This is why we have formed this community. Your customer will appreciate the recommendation, especially as you have taken the time to build trust. And if you believe in karma, this selfless act will most likely be returned to your business in one way or another.
DO something that makes them remember you.
As locally-based companies, we rely on word-of-mouth referrals to bring us more business (another reason why we belong to Women of Weddings!) Give your customers a reason to sing your praises. Offer added value to your services. As mentioned above, be selfless in your recommendations of other businesses even if they are your direct competitors. Throw in something for free (believe me: this will always be cheaper than paying for advertising, and it will more likely result in more customers. Now this is ROI you can measure.)
Consider this story: a few years ago my mother was en route to the Caribbean via the US, and ran into a problem at US customs at the airport in Toronto. She was denied entry, and had no choice but to turn around and go home to Vancouver. When she described her situation to a certain Canadian airline (which goes by the initials "WJ". Subtle, I know), they flew her home for FREE. Guess which airline gets my business every time now? And I take every opportunity to tell this story.
We already know that a negative customer service situation can spread like wildfire, and can do serious damage to your business' reputation. Giving your customer something they were not expecting - really going "above and beyond"- gives them a reason to endorse you from every mountain-top. Be memorable for what you do, not for what you didn’t do.
DO treat your employees they way you want them to treat your customers.
If you are not the only member of your company who interacts directly with customers, this point is pivotal. What goes around comes around. If you do not extend exceptional customer service to your employees- if you don't listen to them, don't support their ideas, ignore their emotions, say no more often than you say yes, don't follow through on your promises to them, fail to create solutions with them, if you are not a memorable employer - they will not be as willing to extend these courtesies to your customers. A dissatisfied employee results in dissatisfied customers.
You must create and expect excellence at every level of your business. This topic could merit its own blog post. Stay tuned- it just might!
I am Andrea Ting-Letts, and you may know me as WoW's Communications Director. Before I began freelance business writing, I was a retail manager with one of the most successful and innovative Canadian cosmetic companies. I worked with countless brides and bridal parties in addition to my devoted clientele. Apparently, even though I have not worked for the company for over 5 years, some still ask for me by name.
Running a multi-million dollar business came with many responsibilities, not the least of which involved leading my team to meet our ever-increasing sales goals. I have always believed that the key to generating sales is to offer genuine, personal customer service to everyone that walks through your door. I dedicated my energy to building authentic relationships with my customers, and I committed to training my team to create their own exceptional customer service experiences. In over ten years in my position, I am proud to say my team exceeded our goals every year.
Please join me and my colleague Mike Wicks for our upcoming workshop "Harvesting Your Abundance", where you will learn and practice techniques to overcome objections and close the sale with confidence. Exclusive to WoW Members and Guests, the workshop will take place at WoW's Autumn Barnburner, our September event.
Here are the details:
Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
10am-12pm | Informal networking begins at 9:30am
Kildara Farm, hosted by Fresh View Events
11293 Chalet Road | Sidney BC | V8L 5M1
RSVP NOW to secure your spot. Deadline is September 6th.