Customer relations are key to your business. But as your company grows, so does the likelihood that you and other executives will lose touch with your clientele. You may let go of the individualized treatment that you felt compelled to offer as a new business.
Many companies even turn to outsiders to handle customer service. In an age of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week customer service, there's a growing trend - especially among retailers - to outsource certain tasks to third parties. At these off-site customer service centers, employees handle phone calls and e-mails from as many as 50 different companies, often flipping through scripts to try to respond the way the various firms want.
Think twice before jeopardizing your relationships this way. Not only should customer service be handled in-house, your company's top brass should get involved on a regular basis so you can keep tabs on satisfaction.
When you think of customer relations, think of how you want to be treated when you have complaints. Think of Wal-Mart, which has staff members greeting people at the door of its stores. The perception is that Wal-Mart cares about customers, although it's unlikely that there are any more employees helping out in the aisles than at comparable stores.
So get personal. Here are five ways to add a special touch to customer relations:
Follow-up. Call all your customers a week after they've done business with your company. Ask them about the experience and about what they want - and don't assume it's what you provide. Identify their needs, their economic situation, the products and services theywant and the terms they would like you to offer.
Visit with customers. Let them know your job is to make sure they're satisfied. Your presence gives the company a face and makes your customers feel appreciated. Being out on the front line also helps keep your staff on their toes, inspiring them to give their best.
Knock on some old doors. If you contact your former customers, you may find they loved your products but went elsewhere because your billing terms didn't suit them. Or perhaps they had problems with your sales staff or the delivery schedule wasn't met. The only way to correct these situations is to uncover them. Some customers hate to complain. They would rather switch than fight. You can imagine the havoc this can cause on repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising. But if you get in touch with them, they're more likely to let you know what was wrong because they know you can do something about it.
Take time. Don't rush customers when they're complaining. This should be a central element of a customer-relations policy for all staff members. Listen to what the customer is saying and act on it. A major complaint about customer service is that it's too rushed, emphasizing speed over courtesy and know-how.
Adopt a consistent approach. Whether customers spend $100 or $100,000, it's a big deal to them. If they're unhappy, they want to be heard. Treat them all with the same concern and respect. Small customers and large ones are both potential repeat customers and potential lost customers. A $100 purchase could turn into a multimillion-dollar contract down the line.
In an era of global commerce it can seem impossible to retain a personal touch. But it can be done. Train your employees and show them by example. If you stay connected with current customers and contact lost customers, satisfaction will grow - along with your sales.
"If we aren't customer driven, our cars won't be either." - Donald Petersen, former CEO of Ford Motor Company
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