Who Decides Good Customer Service?

“Hey, Joe, your service stinks. Get this kid a chocolate milkshake.”

Those are the words I heard as a kid on my first trip to an ice cream parlor near where my grandmother lived. Back then, there were no special people or computer programs needed to determine whether or not a business provided excellent customer service. Customers were ready, willing and able to tell you when things did not measure up to their satisfaction.

Today, businesses large and small use “experts” to tell them if they are conducting business the way they should.

Sometimes those experts are the accountants who pour over the financial records. Accountants can tell a business owner if he/she is making money, and for some that is the only requirement in determining if a business is successful.

Sometimes the experts are companies that provide mystery shoppers to check on the business. The shoppers report on cleanliness, employee interaction, the ease of being a customer – from the way the store is arranged to the amount of time standing in line to make a purchase.

Of these two methods of determining whether or not a business is customer friendly, the latter is more reliable. Still, some employees can spot a professional “shopper” and will provide better service when they think they are being watched and graded than they would have otherwise.

The best determination of a company’s true standing in the community is from the persons that it serves. Why, then, do more companies not ask their customers for feedback? Why are companies not interested in developing programs that bring customers back?

Asking customers to complete short surveys makes more sense than hiring a company to provide lengthy ones completed by expert shoppers. Customer loyalty programs work. What does a company lose by offering a repeat customer a small percentage off? It certainly costs less to keep a good customer than it does to advertise for new ones.

Providing incentives to customers for introducing their friends to the business could make a difference in sales and profits. Rewarding existing customers with a small token of appreciation for helping establishing a greater customer base also costs less than advertising for more traffic.

It is said that a satisfied customer will tell few, if any people, people about his/her shopping adventure. That could certainly change if incentives were provided.

A dissatisfied customer wants to shout to the world when he/she is shown disrespect, ignored, or cheated.

The fact remains that the customer is only real determining factor in measuring the success or failure of any business. Why is that so difficult to learn and understand?

A neighbor who returns again and again to the same auto repair service is a good indication that excellent and fair service is provided. Anyone can get someone into his or her office or store once. Getting repeat business is what helps a business grow and thrive.

What does that take? Actually, providing good customer service is quite simple.

1) Answering the phone – promptly and courteously.

There is nothing more discouraging to a customer than to have a phone ring and ring without being answered, or worse yet, getting a busy signal. When the phone is answered, you want to hear a pleasant voice on the other end, not someone who sounds as if you are interrupting something far more important than your call.

2) Keeping promises.

If you cannot keep a promise, it is far better not to make it. Reliability is a key to keeping a relationship – business or personal – going.

3) Showing respect to customers.

If you ask for feedback, make sure your customers know that you are listening and using their thoughts and opinions. Show interest in what your customers say; don’t act like you’re bored with them.

4) Making returning merchandise or making complaints a pain-free endeavor.

If you have a no return policy, make sure that information is provided when the purchase is made. If you have certain requirements that must be met for a return, clearly indicate that to the customer. And if a customer complains, don’t make him feel like he is wrong or stupid. A good return or complaint procedure may bring that customer back again and again.

5) Offering suggestions even when you cannot provide the service or merchandise your customer seeks.

Remember the movie “Miracle on 34th Street”? Sending people to Gimble’s did not hurt Macy’s in the least. In fact, it endeared customers to Macy’s for being so helpful.

6) Showing, not just telling.

When a customer is looking for something, taking him to the aisle instead of pointing is helpful. Demonstrating the differences in products, in the way they work or in pricing, also shows that you value your customer.

7) Giving something away.

As you complete a transaction with your customer, give them a reason to return, whether it is a coupon for a future discount or an invitation to come back with a friend to receive an extra gift.

These simple acts will show customers that you are serious about keeping their business and can bring in more customers than advertising, new promotions or price-cutting.

In the old days, the ice cream parlor owner probably just asked, “Hey, Bill, how am I doing now?”

And the customer responded, “Better, Joe, much better.”

Perhaps the world is a more complicated place now. But does it really have to be? The principles that kept a customer returning have not really changed. “The Miracle on 34th Street” was made in 1947. Sixty years later, we would still all like a Kris Kringle to send us from Macy’s to Gimble’s if Gimble’s has the better price or product.