This year, the first full week of October (10/3-10/7) marks Customer Service Week, a celebration of the "importance of customer service and of the people who serve and support customers on a daily basis," according to the official website.
Providing excellent customer service can be important to running a successful business. And in today’s review-heavy, digital landscape, how you treat customers is more important than ever.
“We live in a time of unprecedented customer choice and customer voice,” says Joseph Michelli, CEO of the The Michelli Experience. “Perceptions of a company have a substantial impact on consideration and purchase decisions today. Flawed products, inconsistent service, a lack of price transparency, slow delivery speed and uncaring brand representatives make up a lot of the negative online reviews that drive prospective customers toward competitors.”
Customer service is the new marketing, adds Micah Solomon, a customer service consultant and author of the Heart of Hospitality. “When you treat your customers well, it can generate exceptional word of mouth, or what I call ‘word of thumb,’ which is digital sharing and great online reviews,” he says. “This is every bit as powerful—or more so—than old-school marketing. Customer service is powerful for the converse reason, as well. Treat customers terribly, and it can be deadly to your business.”
When it comes to marketing efforts during Customer Service Week and beyond, customer service is probably the least expensive, yet has the highest return on investment, notes Jordan Edwards, president and CEO of Mixology Clothing Company, which operates online and has six brick and mortar locations.
—Joseph Michelli, CEO, The Michelli Experience
“There are some marketing strategies that cost a lot of money, such as big advertising campaigns, new inventory or hiring top consultants,” says Edwards. “We’ve found that the ‘little’ things like excellent customer service make the biggest impact. One of our core principals is, ‘People do business with people who treat them well.’ Excellent customer service will always allow the best companies to stand apart from the crowd.”
Steps to Great Customer Service
In today’s market, where customers can scan products on their phones and find them online for less money, it’s important that business owners look in the mirror and constantly critique themselves. This can help them offer their customers the best possible experience, believes Jordan. He and other small-business experts suggest the following insider secrets to great customer service during Customer Service Week and beyond.
Say thank you. “Countless numbers of leaders with whom I’ve worked commit to writing weekly thank you notes to their staff and customers,” says Edwards. “These leaders have found this personal touch has significant impact on driving brand loyalty.”
Michelli agrees. “Say thank you to those employees delivering great service in your organization and to the customers who frequent your business. People today want to be seen, heard, understood and valued.”
Empower employees. “So many big organizations focus on driving down operating expenses and handcuffing their employees,” says Edwards. “Many times these companies forget what made them successful in the first place. We empower even our lowest-level employees to think like entrepreneurs. You would be surprised at how many customer service issues can be solved with empathy and quick decision making. We work with our team to make sure they know they don’t have to ask permission to make customers happy.”
Building a blame-free culture can help empower employees, agrees Solomon. “Employees need to feel safe trying new ways of serving customers, even if they don’t always work out perfectly. They also need to feel safe admitting their mistakes so they—and the company—can learn from them.”
Strive for a “yes” attitude. “If you and your employees can always start with a positive, can-do attitude, that begins every customer conversation on the right footing,” says Solomon. “This tactic also leads to finding creative solutions. The customer may not always be right, but it’s almost always better to treat them as if they are. What's the point of proving a point to a customer, or ‘winning’ an argument?”
Be flexible. "Great customer service moves on the schedule of the customer, rather than just the preferred schedule of the business,” says Solomon. He shares an experience he had that illustrates this point:
“One especially hot July day, my kids and I accidentally arrived 45 minutes early at an ice cream parlor. The teenage employees busy doing their prep work saw us outside looking hot, disappointed and miserable, so they opened up for us in spite of us being so ridiculously off their schedule. And they did it with a smile.”
Hire carefully. When it comes to ensuring excellent customer service, judicious hiring can be beneficial. “You’re not just looking for employees with experience or particular skills,” says Solomon. “If they’re going to be facing customers all day, employees require warmth, empathy, teamwork, conscientiousness and a pleasant temperament.”
Apologize when necessary. Though you may strive to ensure customer satisfaction, you may have unhappy customers occasionally. Man Crates, a subscription box service for manly men, deals with this eventuality by using humor to cheer up unhappy customers, says Jon Beekman, the company's CEO.
“Our customer service team will occasionally produce ‘Mea Culpa’—It’s Our Fault—videos featuring warehouse employee Trevor. [The videos show] the team duct tape wrapping Trevor to the warehouse wall, and another where the team shaves his head.”
Examine the customer’s journey. “Look at the customer service experience from the vantage point of the customer,” suggests Michelli. “What do your customers see, think, feel, expect and need at each step in their journey with you? Where are they experiencing pain, pleasure and ease? What are the points along their journey that will cause them to stay loyal or churn, often called moments of truth? Ask frontline customer service providers in the company what can be done to help remove pain points—particularly at those moments of truth.”
Practice what you preach. “Staff members emulate leadership behaviors,” says Michelli. “If you are the leader of an organization that is not delivering great service—look in the mirror.”
For more tips on how to keep customers engaged, access 4 Growth Hacks for More Engaged Customers, with insights from CEO of Growth Hackers, Sean Ellis.
Read more articles on getting customers.