Customer service – especially when it is delivered both professionally and consistently – will beat price both as a customer retention and as a customer attraction tool just about every time. But customer service is not always what its name would imply.
Like you, I observe many so-called service providers performing their day-to-day activities: store clerks, automobile service writers, airline ticket agents, airline gate agents, rental car agents, hotel desk clerks, all kinds of home service personnel such as plumbers and electricians, plus quite a few salespeople who claim to offer their customers outstanding customer service.
Even when I observe customer service being delivered, it’s frequently not delivered cheerfully.
“Well, yes, we can get out there and pick it up, but we’re pretty busy right now. It’s Monday morning, you know. How big of a hurry are you in?”
“Sure, we can make the change, but it’s going to cost you an extra $100.”
After purchasing some new garage doors yesterday, I asked how soon they could be installed. The salesperson answered, “We’re in our busiest season, so we’re pretty backed up right now. If you wanted them installed fast, you should never order in the spring. I believe I can get an installer out there in a couple of weeks. Is that okay?”
#1 Customer Service Rule: If you’re going to give service, give it cheerfully.
Here’s one I heard a few days ago when I called to place an online order, “All of our customer service personnel are busy right now, so please hold. If you hang up, you will lose your place in line. Please understand that your call is important to us, but we anticipate that you’ll be on hold for approximately 20 minutes.”
Returning from a mission trip to Mexico a few weeks ago, I met an elderly lady who had a four-hour layover in the Atlanta Airport. Being a seasoned traveler, I asked an airline agent if she had plenty of open seats on an earlier flight. She answered that the flight had plenty of open seats. I then asked her if she could help this lady out by booking her on that particular flight that left three hours earlier. The agent said, “Yes, I can do it, but it will cost her a $25 change fee.” To which the old lady quickly responded, “I can’t afford an extra $25, I’ll just wait the four hours for my flight.”
With a big smile on my face, I said to the agent, “I just thought you might be able to show this lady some old-fashioned Southern hospitality.”
The airline agent responded with a priceless statement that speaks volumes about some company’s attitudes toward customer service, “Mr. Lee, Delta Airlines no longer allows us to show Southern hospitality.”
Syndicated radio talk show host Clark Howard frequently refers to customer service departments as “customer NO-service.” Howard is referring, of course, to the poor service frequently offered from customer service personnel.
Almost everyone enjoys doing business with people that are cheerful, and almost no one enjoys doing business with a sourpuss. Granted, as customers, we have no choice sometimes, but as salespeople, customer NO-service is no way to grow your customer base. Customer NO-service is not an option.
Delta Airlines is haemorrhaging red ink, as are most airlines. Airlines desperately need more customers to cover their out-of-control operating expense levels. The Delta agent missed out on a golden opportunity to make a customer for life. All she would have had to do was say something like, “It would be Delta’s pleasure to help this nice lady out. Let me see your ticket and I’ll see what I can do.”
But, as the agent said, “We’re no longer allowed to give awesome service.”
“My pleasure” is the correct response anytime customers make a reasonable request that you can accommodate.
Even if you render the service, but complain about it, you’re negating the gesture.
“We have a crew that’ll be on that job at 7 a.m. in the morning. Can you guarantee that you’ll have this material on the job so they can get started on time?”
Wrong answer: “Well, I guess we can. I’ll have to shift some deliveries around. Everyone seems to be looking for a ‘first out’ today, but yeah, I believe we can do it.”
Right answer: “It will be my pleasure to check it out for you. Let’s see here, yes, no problem, we’ll for sure have it out there no later than 7 a.m.
If you’re going to give service, give it cheerfully!
If you cannot give customers the level of service that they are asking for, try not to say NO, but rather, do your best to offer an alternative choice. Something like, “All of our trucks are committed for first thing tomorrow morning, but I could get the material out to your job late this afternoon. Would that work for you?”
Customer Service Rules
1. Smile when you are dealing with a customer. A smile indicates that you are enjoying your job as a salesperson and appreciate your customers’ business.
2. Use courteous words, such as, thank you, you’re welcome, it’s my pleasure, no problem, would you be kind enough to, yes sir, no sir, anything else we can help you with today, etc.
3. When you learn that you cannot live up to a customer service commitment, call the customer before the customer calls you.
4. Following a transaction, extend your hand and shake the customer’s hand as you say, “Thank you for your business.”
5. Occasionally, call your customer after the transaction is complete as a follow up. This is really great customer service.
6. Demonstrate humility. By showing that you’re vulnerable; that is, that you aren’t a “know it all,” you gain credibility with customers.
7. Double check facts and figures. Repeat them to the customer to make sure that you didn’t make a mistake.
8. Avoid wishful thinking. If there is something about your product or service that based on your experience the customer is likely to misunderstand, point it out even if it might cost you the order. It’s better to find out now than after the product is delivered or worse yet, installed.
About the Author
Bill Lee is author of 30 Ways Managers Shoot themselves in the Foot and Gross Margin: 26 Factors Affecting Your Bottom Line.