Is your customer service giving your small business the competitive edge you want?

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Spatchcocked on the Kettle
Spatchcocked on the Kettle (Photo credit: Another Pint Please…)

You hear and read it everywhere. Customers complaining about banks and insurance companies with long and drawn-out horror stories of frustration and personal loss.

This is where there is an opportunity for small business owners to outshine their larger business counterparts but many small businesses miss out because they don’t give it enough attention, have a system in place and train their staff adequately.

I’ve been dealing with a small Cape-based sound system supplier and every call is answered, problems are dealt with swiftly and there are no additional charges for basic advice on fine-tuning their software. Yet the small company has something that goes beyond all the usual components of customer service — friendly staff who are only willing to help. There is another thing – this company does not have a toll-free number but a human being at their switchboard who knows every staff member who deals with customers.

What is customer service? The definition that I like is that it is the assistance and advice provided by the company to people who buy or use its products or services. This definition says it all. You could add that customer service is the service provided to customers before, during and after purchasing and using products or services.

What would you say are the elements of good customer service? I’ve been struggling with this one because they are so many elements to good customer service. One way to look at it is to unpack what customer service involves:

  • Products and services: It starts with providing products and services that are easy for the customer to use and that saves them time and money and perhaps even improves their lives.
  • Understanding what customers expect: You need to talk to customers to find out what sort of service levels that they want from your business. If you don’t know this, you could be under-delivering all the time and lose sales.
  • Staff training: Your staff need good communication and sales skills. But just as important they need to show leadership by personally giving excellent customer service at all times.
  • Handling complaints: Customer complaints need to be listened to and recorded. Customers need to know that you appreciate their feedback but more importantly that you will do something about their problem and provide them with a mutually acceptable solution.
  • Product knowledge: Staff who deal with customers need to know everything about your products and services and, where relevant, need to know the technical specifications and performance of products – even against competitors. Staff must be able to know all the features of your products and be able to turn them into benefits for the customer.

These are just a few of the components of customer service. Remember customers also rate your service on reliability, tangibles, responsiveness, assurance and empathy.

You may at this stage be thinking how much is all this going to cost? Most of it will cost you nothing and staff training will really just take up your time. Think about how much money are you losing because because of customer service that is not meeting customer expectations. I had an interview with a food retailer the other day who told me that his customer service was something that he worked on daily and was present in his business throughout the day to monitor, watch and guide his staff in improving their levels of customer service. This small business owner is providing better service than any of the large food chains.

What do you think is important in customer service for your business? What is the one thing that you can do starting today to make a dramatic improvement to your customer service?


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