How to Be a Business Person, Not a Business Robot: The Importance of Customer Service
Terrible customer service stories – everybody has one. Whether they involve haggling with shady salespeople or navigating through convoluted call centers, these experiences show one thing in common – a lack of respect for the customer’s needs. This can be the kiss of death for budding entrepreneurs interested in building their clientele, which is why many of the most successful businesses – both large and small – work hard to prevent their customers from feeling like talking wallets. Perhaps you are starting a new business or are trying to grow one during these uncertain economic times. It pays, then, to learn what other companies are doing to make their customers happy or miserable. The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), for instance, ranks U.S. companies according to feedback from thousands of customers, making it a great place to begin.
The Worst Companies
It’s no surprise to many that the companies with the lowest ACSI scores are banks, telecom service providers and airlines, with Bank of America receiving the most consumer hate in 2011 for its frequent fees and unhelpful call centers. While hidden or excessive charges tend to provoke the most anger from customers, all of these companies have been accused of providing little or no feedback when it comes to changing their policies and handling complaints. Customers hate being treated like cattle, which is exactly how they feel when dealing with a company that gives them no opportunity to be heard.
The Best Companies
The most beloved companies, also unsurprisingly, are retail establishments since they face more competitors and fewer obstacles to prevent their customers from leaving. Apple, Inc., for example, has not become a tech powerhouse from brilliant marketing campaigns alone, but also because it focuses heavily on the needs of the customer. During an age when brick-and-mortar establishments have had difficulty competing with online retail, Apple’s stores remain successful by providing a user-friendly atmosphere. Customers greatly appreciate talking to salespeople who can answer all their questions without making them feel foolish, which is why half of the people who walk in are new users.
Small Businesses: The Personal Touch
While the ACSI provides helpful information about what makes customers happy, it focuses on large corporations. Small businesses, however, face additional problems since they lack visibility and must establish stellar relationships with their customers in order to survive. Fortunately, their size enables them to quickly address problems without having to deal with the bureaucracy that plagues larger operations, giving them an opportunity to provide that personal touch many customers crave. Here are a few methods that successful small businesses use:
Many small businesses look to the Internet to provide affordable marketing strategies, but not all of them are able to establish an image that sets them apart from the competition. Building a well-designed website with a clear focus remains important because it represents the “face” of your business. Some businesses, however, have decided to go further by including social media features such blogging, apps, and videos. A video, for example, enables customers to see a human face behind the business as well as give them a way to easily imagine themselves using your product or service. Michael Di Pippo, for instance, uses YouTube to sell fishing rods the size of a pen, which would have seemed like a farfetched idea without videos demonstrating the effectiveness of his products.
While a business degree online may give you the tools to run your business more efficiently, learning to become a great salesperson takes practice, especially for those who have trouble socializing. Even if you have a truly wonderful service or product, poor sales practices will drive away potential customers. If you have ever been pushed into buying a product you don’t want or have talked to someone who knew nothing about what they were selling, then you probably understand why customers dislike salespeople. They need someone to guide them, however, which is why becoming a good listener is the key to selling effectively. Instead of telling them what they want, ask questions and give them a chance to explain their problems. Since customers don’t have the time to learn everything, you should become the expert that they seek.
The most hated companies on the ACSI index have all been criticized for providing poor feedback, which is why it’s essential for small business owners to communicate quickly and clearly with their customers. Whether you take advantage of social media such as Yelp or offer a feedback system of your own, it’s important to remain aware of what customers are saying about your business. Taking control of customer feedback is especially important now that social media has become influential in spreading the reputation of a business. For example, Domino’s pizza faced a PR crisis in 2009 when two employees posted YouTube videos of themselves preparing tainted food, prompting the company to adopt its own social media campaign. Ignoring negative feedback will not make it go away. Instead, you can respond quickly to negative reviews with positive and helpful remarks. Moreover, you can promote positive feedback by offering rewards for customers who participate. A quick response shows customers that you care about their problems and are willing to provide a solution.
These are only a few of the methods that can help improve customer relations and add a human touch to your business. No matter what you’re selling, giving customers the feeling that they are interacting with a real person will help ensure that they return.
Brandi Hunt, a freelance writer and editor, has written extensively about how to obtain your business degree online as well as online articles about California small business workshops.