Who decides good customer service?

“Hey Joe, your service sucks. Get this kid a chocolate shake.”

Those are the words I heard as a child on my first trip to an ice cream parlor near where my grandmother lived. Back then, no special people or computer programs were needed to determine whether or not a company provided excellent customer service. Customers were ready, willing and able to tell him when things weren’t up to their satisfaction.

Today, companies large and small use “experts” to find out if they are doing business the way they should.

Sometimes those experts are the accountants who review the financial records. Accountants can tell a business owner if he is making money, and for some, that is the only requirement to determine if a business is successful.

Sometimes experts are companies that provide mystery shoppers to verify the business. Shoppers report on cleanliness, employee interaction, the ease of being a customer, from the way the store is set up to the amount of time waiting in line to make a purchase.

Of these two methods of determining whether or not a company is customer friendly, the latter is more reliable. Still, some employees can spot a professional “buyer” and will provide better service when they believe they are being watched and rated than they otherwise would have been.

The best determination of a company’s true standing in the community is from the people it serves. Why, then, do more companies not ask their customers for feedback? Why are companies not interested in developing programs that win customers back?

Asking customers to complete short surveys makes more sense than hiring a company to provide long surveys completed by expert buyers. Customer loyalty programs work. What does a company lose by offering a regular customer a small percentage discount? It certainly costs less to keep a good customer than to advertise for new ones.

Providing incentives for customers to introduce their friends to your business could make all the difference in sales and profits. Rewarding existing customers with a small token of appreciation for helping to establish a larger customer base also costs less than advertising more traffic.

It is said that a satisfied customer will tell few, if any, people about their shopping adventure. That could certainly change if incentives were provided.

An unsatisfied customer wants to yell at the world when they are being disrespected, ignored, or cheated on.

The fact is that the customer is the only real determining factor in measuring the success or failure of any business. Why is it so difficult to learn and understand?

A neighbor who returns to the same auto repair service over and over again is a good indicator that excellent and fair service is being provided. Anyone can bring someone to their office or store one time. Getting repeat business is what helps a business grow and prosper.

What’s in that? Actually, providing good customer service is quite simple.

1) Answer the phone promptly and courteously.

There is nothing more discouraging to a customer than having a phone ringing and ringing unanswered, or worse, getting a busy signal. When the phone is answered, you want to hear a pleasant voice on the other end, not someone who sounds like they’re interrupting something much more important than your call.

2) Keep promises.

If you can’t keep a promise, it’s much better not to keep it. Reliability is the key to keeping a relationship, business or personal, on track.

3) Show respect to customers.

If you ask for feedback, make sure your customers know that you are listening to and using their thoughts and opinions. Show interest in what your customers say; don’t act like you’re bored with them.

4) Make returning merchandise or filing complaints a painless effort.

If you have a no-return policy, please ensure that information is provided when the purchase is made. If you have certain requirements that must be met for a return, please clearly indicate this to the customer. And if a customer complains, don’t make him feel like he’s wrong or stupid. A good return or claim procedure can keep that customer coming back again and again.

5) Offer suggestions even when you can’t provide the service or merchandise your customer is looking for.

Do you remember the movie “Miracle on 34th Street”? Sending people to Gimble’s didn’t hurt Macy’s one bit. In fact, it endeared itself to Macy’s customers for being so helpful.

6) Show, not just tell.

When a customer is looking for something, it’s helpful to take them out into the aisle instead of pointing at them. Demonstrating differences in products, in the way they work, or in prices also shows that you value your customer.

7) Give something away.

As you complete a transaction with your customer, give them a reason to return, whether it’s a coupon for a future discount or an invitation to return with a friend for an additional gift.

These simple acts will show customers that you are serious about keeping their business and can attract more customers than advertising, new promotions or price reductions.

In the old days, the ice cream parlor owner would probably just ask, “Hey, Bill, how’s it going now?”

And the customer replied, “Better, Joe, much better.”

Perhaps the world is a more complicated place now. But does it really have to be this way? The principles that kept a customer coming back really haven’t changed. “The Miracle on 34th Street” was made in 1947. Sixty years later, we all wish Kris Kringle would send us from Macy’s to Gimble’s if Gimble’s has the best price or product.

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