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Service Sells!

By Jennifer Johnson
Posted Friday, April 25, 2003

A slogan on someone's company truck caught my eye the other day. "Home of Outrageous Service". Not "The World's Best Widgets" or "You Won't Find a Lower Price Anywhere for Widgets", just "Home of Outrageous Service". Why would someone advertise their service instead of their superior product or affordable price?

Simple. As a general rule, customer service is so poor these days that the company providing excellent service is at a distinct advantage. I'll bet you can't think of more than a few times this past month that you've received excellent service. I'll bet you even more that you can think of many times you haven't.

A short while back I was in a well-known store and, being a first time mommy of a nine week old baby, I discovered that it was relatively easy to get stroller, baby, and a few hundred items to the checkout stand, but for some mysterious reason getting the same stroller, baby, and few hundred items out the door was impossible. The nice cashier asked me if I needed help out and I said that I'd appreciate it. She then asked her manager if she could quickly run out with me to help me carry my purchases. Without so much as a glance, the little vest-clad muskrat said, "No," and went about his business. Yes, I was at fault for getting too many items, but he missed a perfect opportunity to cultivate customer satisfaction.

Opportunities like this present themselves to you every day. As a business owner, you must do what you can to provide the best customer service possible; it could be the deciding factor when a potential customer comes to choosing between you and your competitor.

The question is what can you do to improve your service?

Make It Easy For Customers To Contact You

Your contact information should be readily available from every page of your site either by link or displayed on the page. People want to know who they're doing business with. They want to know you can be reached if they have a question about your product or if they have problems.

A business site with no contact information throws up a red flag. Contact information conveys credibility, a major factor in becoming successful online. Your much coveted Pre-Raphaelite painting "Gentle Weasel at Rest" may have the potential to fetch a hefty fee, but without so much as your phone number accessible to the potential customer, do you really think they'll send their credit card information flitting through cyberspace?

At the very least, your customers should be able to contact you by phone, email, and postal mail.

Don't want to be bombarded with questions? Then go ahead and make yourself hard to find, but be prepared not to be bombarded with those pesky orders as well.

Appreciate The Value Of Your Email

Once you've made it easy for customers to contact you, you have to actually answer your email. Your email "In" box is full of opportunities. Not the "ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY!!! MAKE $3000 AN HOUR FOR STARING AT A WALL!! DON'T DELETE THIS!!"-type opportunities; I'm referring to the opportunities present in your business-related email.

Most business email presents the chance to either gain a new customer or strengthen the relationship with an existing customer - both of which can only help your bottom line. I've said this many times, but it bears repeating: many businesses spend tons of money to attract customers, yet ignore the person who COMES TO THEM. Their competitors should send them a "Thank You" note. Ignoring a potential customer's email is a surefire way to lose that person to a company that *will* listen to and appreciate them.

Let me be the first to say that I've been guilty of the same mistake. After about the 1100th email I received with only one line - "tell me how to make a web page" - I was sorely tempted to respond with an equally frustrating generality such as, "use html" or ignore the message altogether. It doesn't do any good, however, to fail to respond to messages, and sending back a surly reply is like receiving an invitation to appear on the Jerry Springer show - nothing good can come of it.

Most of you are familiar with Jim Daniels of BizWeb 2000. He's one of the most famous, widely published, Internet marketing gurus around, so it's safe to assume his email "In" box is stuffed. When I was first starting out, I wrote him an email. I wasn't really expecting an answer since I was accustomed to that being the case from other online businesses, but I soon received a very friendly, helpful reply. I imagine his success is due, in a large part, to making people feel that their questions and concerns matter. That's how you develop loyal customers.

As your business grows, you'll soon find that answering email can become a full-time job if you aren't careful. You can use autoresponders, a well-written FAQ page, and email "stationery" to help cut down on time spent answering the same questions over and over. One caution, though: don't go overboard. You don't want to be perceived as cold and impersonal. Judicious use of automation will ease your workload, but there are still many things that are best done the "hard" way.

Believe In The Power Of Extras

Another way to deliver superior customer service is through "extras". Bonus gifts with purchases and similar rewards are an example of extras, but I'm thinking more along the lines of what you could do to set you apart from the competition and make your customers feel like special, valuable, individuals.

My dentist sent me a *hand-written* note after my first visit, welcoming me to his practice and discussing the treatment he had given and the follow-up recommended. Anyone who takes the time to do that deserves something in return. You can bet I've referred numerous people to him.

One of my very good friends owns Americans in Scotland. She offers escorted, personalized tours of Scotland. I consider her the consummate customer service specialist. Many of her clients are clients because of *her* as much as because of the great service she offers. Her "extra" is personalized service. She's made screensavers for her clients from their trip photos, gives them personalized gifts, and more, and it's paid off - she's been given rave reviews from her clients who don't hesitate to refer their friends.

Can you deliver personalized service to thousands of customers? Maybe not, but there are things you can do to enhance your customers' experience with your company and show them they are extremely valuable to you.

These are just a few general principles regarding customer service. The great thing about these ideas (and many others relating to delivering top-notch customer service) is they won't cost you a wheelbarrow full of cash to implement; in fact, all they'll cost you is a little time and effort.

Take a long, hard look at your current level of service or, better yet, ask your customers what they think of your service. If it's not where it should be, you're probably losing sales as a result. It's time to gain the advantage on your competition by delivering superior service!


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