What have you done for me lately?”
It’s a question that no business or service provider wants to hear. And that’s because it indicates that the person inquiring is probably less-than-satisfied with the state of his experience with your business.
While any business can out-sell their competition by offering more value for less money, the real worth of a business comes from its ability to deliver unparalleled customer service.
By creating a business culture that revolves around delighting your customers you’ll ensure those customers stick around … and creating that culture is not some kind of mysterious secret sauce. You can successfully deliver exceptional customer service by focusing on these 10 rules of engagement.
1. Remember it’s a relationship business
While we’ve embraced technology for its ability to increase business productivity and efficiency, we seem to have lost sight of the very thing that business is built upon: relationships.
Sometimes you have to take the business out of the business and just get to know your clients and customers as people. Show interest in their personal interests. Be sincere. They’ll value feeling important and appreciated, and you’ll find you’ve gained a deeper, more meaningful partnership with them … and rely a little less on technology.
2. Be a good listener
Nothing makes a customer feel more validated and appreciated than being heard. This is true in any relationship.
At Altitude, our business requires us to be good “performers” which often means doing or saying something that gets our clients’ attention and makes us look smart. After all, they’re paying us so we better have some smart things to say!
But coming up with smart solutions requires that a business first pay attention to what their customers are saying in order to have a clear understanding of their needs and what’s most important to them. Identify and anticipate those needs by getting to know and taking an interest in a customer’s business by asking lots of questions.
It’s then equally important to really listen to the answers to those questions. Pay attention to the words they use, their tone of voice, body language and how they feel.
3. Set expectations
If you want to avoid unpleasant surprises, be sure to get early agreement from customers on all the basic pillars upon which you will develop your work, product or service: strategy, goals, budget and a timeline. It’s also advisable to gain early alignment on success metrics.
Understanding the customer’s expectation for and definition of success will enable you to develop a plan to meet and exceed those expectations, as well as have a contingency plan in your back pocket in the event the goals are not met. Even if the plan fails, your relationship will succeed with clear communication throughout the process.
Obviously, the goals of your customer is very individualized depending on your space. If you’re New Balance, your customer will likely want well designed, well constructed running shoes that meet their individual fitness goals. If you’re an airline, your customer is going to want on-time flights, fair warning if their flight is delayed or canceled and an appropriate communications vehicle with which important changes can be conveyed.
If you’re a services provider – like Altitude Marketing – you’ll want to work with clients to develop an understanding of what they’re trying to achieve and how you’ll be deemed successful.
4. Create a culture of confidence
Customers love results, and they love to understand how results are achieved. Transparency is key. When clients pull back the curtain, they want to see proof that your systems and processes for getting things done are delivering the results they need. Avoid the Wizard of Oz predicament by taking time to explain to your clients how what you do provides a strong solution for their needs. Provide lots of regular check-ins and follow-ups to give them confidence things are moving forward and in the right direction.
5. Understand the power of “Yes” … and “No”
For those in the service industry, it seems obvious that one of your primary goals is to give your client what they want. And there’s no question that accommodating your clients is of utmost importance. The same is true, however, no matter what industry you’re in.
If a customer has a request that’s fairly reasonable, say yes and then figure out how to get it done. Be proactive in seeking opportunities that makes their job easier.
Conversely, sometimes the best way to give a customer what they want is to not give them what they’re asking for.
This is where the service industry separates itself from others.
Depending on your service, if you firmly believe a customer request or idea doesn’t make sense and will not help them accomplish their business goals, help them understand why and provide a better solution. Now, this obviously wouldn’t happen in, say, the restaurant services space, but at Altitude we see this fairly regularly. It gets easier to say “No” when your clients trust you as the expert in your space and understand that your team is working in the client’s best interests.
6. Be prepared for surprises
Unless you’re in the birthday party business, surprises are generally not a good thing. You can count on the fact that things will not always go as planned, so put yourself in the best position possible and be prepared for those situations.
Create a set of guidelines and contingencies for unexpected circumstances. Know who your allies are who will be there to help you when you need it, and come up with your own solutions as well. Don’t let the client see you skip a beat.
Demonstrate quick resolution and a positive outcome, and that surprise will quickly become a non-event.
7. Honesty is (really!) the best policy
When things go off course – and they most certainly will from time to time – the best thing you can do is communicate the issue immediately – and personally. This is no time to hide behind technology. Forget email. Pick up the phone or, if possible, make an appointment to meet with your client in person. Accept responsibility for your own mistakes, and apologize.
Apologizing is easy and people like it. Prioritize a solution and let the client know what you will do to resolve the issue. If you handle these situations correctly, your clients will remember that you cared enough to talk honestly with them about it, and to find a quick resolution.
What happens if you don’t apologize openly? You could lose a customer for life.
8. But sometimes faking it is in order
Clients are people, too. People have bad days. Some people are just cranky by nature. You can’t take it personally and chances are, it’s not personal anyway. You can’t control your customer’s behavior, but you can control your reaction to it.
Customer service representatives should do their best to remain calm and stay on task. Go out of your way to make the customer feel comfortable and safe to air his or her grievances. Look at these situations as an opportunity for growth. By having a frank, albeit uncomfortable, conversation, you will more than likely end up in a better place than you were.
9. Get regular feedback
The only way to know that you’re providing exceptional customer service is to encourage and welcome feedback and suggestions for improvement. Establish a system that invites customers to provide constructive criticism and make it comfortable for them to let you know what they think and how they feel about your business’ services or products. Once growth opportunities have been identified, set goals with milestones, and then set up regular check-ins with customers – either directly or through surveys – to demonstrate progress.
10. Always say “thank you”
This is the easiest thing on this list to do, so do it and do it often. Customers appreciate when you appreciate their business, so make a point of letting them know how much you appreciate them. Find creative and unexpected ways to express your gratitude, like sending a handwritten note or sending a small but meaningful gift to celebrate a project’s completion. Take nothing for granted and freely share your appreciation for their business.