how to kick up your customer service

my breakfast at the LA area chamber this morning had a brainstorming session about how to enhance customer service. it got me thinking about how running a business is more about customer service than even the service i’m selling. so much of success is about just showing up, listening to our customers and doing what we say we’re going to do, that i thought i’d share some of the things we talked about.

little things mean a lot
when i read the e-myth revisited by michael e. gerber, many of his examples were about nice little touches that various businesses had written into their operation manuals as a mark of customer service. making the experience of working with you rewarding and fun to your clients means showing them you care about them beyond the work they bring you. use your discovery sessions with each new client to take note of personal preferences so you can speak to these over the course of your relationship. add personalized notes when you send written correspondence. once you get into a working relationship, treat your alliance like a team and use “we” statements rather than “you” or “i” so they are assured everyone’s equally invested. people always say to smile on the telephone because the listener can hear the change in your voice. i’d say take it a step further, if you are like me and have to dedicate a certain time to making calls, ramp up for it with a favorite song, get relaxed, confident and happy, and then go into your call sessions. i used to do this before job interviews, now i do it before calls, meetings & presentations. it’s a great way to really get your game face on.

be there for your clients
showing up, being on time and responding to communications in a timely manner is a given we all trip up on sometimes, but a mark of good service to prioritize. beyond the literal interpretation of timeliness is listening, focusing, making the time that serves your client about them. i love tom peters‘ books and advice, and he repeatedly stresses that truly listening to clients is the most important service you can provide. we are often spinning our wheels trying to figure out how to impress them or solve the next problem, but the more we project of our own ideas, the less we have truly heard what they need. schedule some time each week to check in with clients you’re not in regular contact with, drop them a note or give a call. set up a google alert for each of your clients so you can be delivered any mention of them online and stay abreast of what they’re up to so you can send them due congratulations on their accomplishments. catherine chevalier of not maurice added that making sure clients know you’re there as a support partner is very important. in a discovery session, i like to ask potential clients to define success for the particular project we’re working on so i can find out what’s important to them, what their expectations are going in and help manage them, and make sure the money they’re spending will get them where they want to go. finally, everyone agrees that the thank you card will never go out of style. take the time to personally thank your clients for choosing you and being great people to work with.

mind the details
clients like to know they’ve got someone looking out for them. i’ve had them send me copy with errors a simple spell check could catch, so now i run it on all their documents [as a designer, i can’t make the changes automatically on official copy, but i can ask the client about them instead]. if you liaise between clients and vendors, be sure to communicate important information clearly and explain processes to your clients so they understand the decisions they’re making. think about your services from an outsider’s perspective and try to streamline your processes to include relevant information the client needs while editing down technical stuff that might overwhelm them—make it easy to do business with you. similarly, make it easy to get in touch. respond to emails within an hour, even if it’s just to confirm receipt and give an eta on when a client will hear back. marketing mentor advises to put your business phone number in your email name field after your name as well as in your signature so clients don’t have to look far your number. i recently read the best invoice terms to get you paid faster which mentioned that thanking clients for their business on your invoice increases the likelihood of payment by 5% [there’s more good advice there as well, read up!]. in short, try to use automated systems that can help add value to your services and keep your clients happy.

prevent problems whenever you can
sometimes miscommunications and misunderstandings can happen in your professional relationships, and there are a few ways to deal with them. i like to do as much preventative medicine as i can in a discovery meeting as part of learning about my clients and their goals. when expectations seem out of line with what i’m able to deliver, i have that conversation upfront to prevent a mismatch. success is ultimately about defining what a client wants and delivering it, so i try to make sure we have a good match of expectations and commitment going in, and tackle any misconceptions before they become an uncomfortable reality. of course, we can’t anticipate the scope of what these will be sometimes, so when a miscommunication does happen, hear your client out, empathize with any frustration they express, offer a sincere apology and come up with a workable solution. if a valued client is particularly upset, you may want to make an exception and offer a special make-good tailored to the situation at hand. a fellow chamber member talked about an upsetting experience with a business and how they worked to resolve the situation which so impressed him, he still talks about it and recommends them to this day. how you handle a situation with a client can entirely turn bad circumstances around. however, there are times when perhaps the fit was never meant to be, and you choose to cut ties. while this is an alternative, i’d caution anyone against arguing with a client. nancy friedman, the telephone doctor says “don’t ever argue with a customer. you’ll lose every single time. don’t even get into the ring with them.” if you’ve identified the point where you think it’s best to make an exit, state it simply and move on.

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