Fed Up Customers Can Hurt Profits

Businesses can't afford to underestimate the influence that customer service has on their bottom line. One nearly certain way to lose customers is to make them wait too long.

Some polls have shown that more than 80% of customers have left a business because of long waits. The amount of time a customer has to wait is a primary driver of customer satisfaction and should be at the top of your list when assessing how your business can better serve consumers.

One survey also showed that bad customer experiences tend to have a ripple effect. That's because customers who perceive negative service not only won't spend money at a business again, they are likely to tell others about their bad experiences.

At a time where shopping research takes place online and people are engaged in social networks to share and collect ideas, businesses can risk losing potential customers before they ever set foot in their stores or offices.

Knowing that customer service is one of the best routes to a healthy bottom line, here is a list of steps to take that will help improve your customer-satisfaction ratings:

1. Require executives to personally and regularly serve customers. By dealing with the public, executives cement relationships with customers or clients and let employees know that service is honorable and rewarding.

2. Survey customers and give immediate feedback. A customer satisfaction survey can establish performance benchmarks, build relationships, identify customers your business might lose and can be a catalyst for enhancing overall satisfaction. Surveys should be short, taking no longer than 10 minutes to complete. Ask concise rather than open-ended questions and mix topics to force continual thinking about different subjects.

When you get enough results and spot trends, let your employees know. And make sure to tell staff members quickly when the company hears comments about problems or positive results. This allows employees to make the connection between their behavior and customer attitudes toward the company. A quick response to customers shows them that your organization cares and rewards them for taking the time to speak up.

3. Hire people who have a service attitude. Some people simply enjoy serving others and that dominates their personalities. These individuals make the best salespeople and customer service representatives. They present a good image for your business and help your enterprise grow.

4. Cultivate service heroes. Your company's staff and management meetings should regularly feature examples of outstanding customer service. Public praise creates heroes and encourages excellence. Give employees the power to do whatever has to be done to make a customer's experience pleasant. There will be occasional failures but use those as opportunities to find new strategies. When employees exceed customer service expectations, reward them. One way is to link compensation to employee performance. Companies that do not reward innovation probably are not encouraging outstanding service.

5. Devote as much time to service training as technical and procedural training. Getting the job done right technically doesn't count if a customer's perception is it was not handled correctly. If customers feel they received poor service, they did receive poor service. Your employees represent your company and your brand. Working with customers is the most important thing they do. Give them the tools with sufficient training. Never let untrained employees have customer contact.

6. Make customers and clients believe they are your company's only concern. Let your clientele think you have all the time in the world -- even when you don't. A relaxed tone of voice and patience go a long way toward keeping customers satisfied, even if they don't get what they want. Take complaints seriously -- people don't care if you've heard the problem before, they want a representative's complete attention. Studies have shown that as many as 90 percent of customers whose complaints are resolved will purchase again.

7. Keep raising the bar. Successful organizations continually raise the bar. If your entire organization isn't pushing to do better today, you risk being left behind. Create an atmosphere of excellence by spreading the word that everything your company does must be the best and you won't accept less.

8. Comparison shop. Visit the competition. See what they are doing and then do it better or differently. Customers have more than one choice, so stay ahead of the curve by asking how you can add value to their experience. When you are a customer, get involved with clerks and service attendants.

9. Keep employees up to date. When appropriate, let staff members know what new products have been ordered, when they will arrive, what kind of advertising promotions are coming up, and what business changes the company is planning. The more employees know, the better then can serve customers or clients.

10. Stay positive. When problems or questions arise with customers, try to resolve them rather than saying that "there's nothing we can do." If a customer demands something that is against company policy, explain the situation but if possible, offer to help come up with an alternative solution.

Final Thought: Always say "thank you." A good rule of thumb is to end every interaction with words of appreciation. Even when customers complain, customer service representatives can thank them for bringing the problem to the company's attention.

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