While everybody else still writes about another “Google Slap”, and how it affects their businesses, I think I have written enough about this. Check out my previous post, if you are interested. Today I want to write about another theme, which is vastly important to any business.
What does this term mean to you?
Where does Customer Service start for you?
Where does it end?
Your answer will depend on the type of your business. If you sell ice cream on the beach, your idea of customer service might just be to give away some extra tissues for free. If you sell information products like e-books, you may offer an easy way for customers to get a refund. If you sell custom made solutions of any sort, your service itself might be the customer service to your customers (without them even knowing that there is one).
Since I do not know what type of business you — my dear reader — are in, I cannot give you specific advice. That would be have to be part of a consulting or coaching deal anyway. Or do you give away everything for free. Nothing wrong with giving away advice for free. You should do it, you can show off that you know what you are talking about that way. But when it starts to get specific, you better start selling it (if you are in the coaching or consulting business).
The three little examples from the one paragraph above show you can think about helping your customer in any business, in any situation. Not every customers will require that extra tissue, but it's nice to have it ready, when the kid drops the ice cream on mama's skirt. It helps to convert a possibly bad experience of the customer into a type of — “Well, that guy helped me out so nice and even replaced the ice cream for free, even it was not his fault.” — experience. Otherwise the mother probably never ever will buy her kid another ice cream in this season. Bet what? Next year you get a new competitor, who opens up the fourth ice cream stand on the beach right next to you. Chances are this mother will walk up to your stand and say, “Hello, get me that big cone with strawberry, vanilla , coffee, and the chocolate sprinkles, please. …”
Charan Atreya, the founder of this “Carnival of Small Business Issues”, writes in one of his blog posts something like,
“You need to provide good customer service, but there is an important condition: ‘Customers have to remain profitable.’”
If you are in the commodities market, in which price is the major factor for controlling your sales volume, you might not be able to provide even basic level of support and still remain profitable. E.g. you sell e-books for US$ 7.00. Just state clear what it is that you are selling and that there simply will not be any support. You might be required by certain payment processors or the law to accept refunds, but that's all.
Best chances to avoid the need for customer support altogether is to stick to all promises on your sales page, and to not allow any ambiguity or misinterpretation.
Of course, there are kind of unethical business models that are based on selling “crap” to “ they never will buy from us again ” type of customers. But as much as I know about the readers of this blog, I don't think that any of them are in that sort of business, that discredits honest businesses.
You know why people are buying from you. You provide a product, a service people need to solve their problem or something they just want. We all should know by now that a returning customer is more worth, because the initial acquisition cost is already paid. You get to keep more and can sell easier based on an evolving relationship.
It is always a good idea to put yourself into the role of the other party. Pretend you were a customer and you bought something from your business. What would you expect? Friendly customer service or not? Of course, you expect the best service for your money. So do your real customers.
Many businesses put up a guard against customers. They make it difficult to be contacted. They bury contact or support forms deep on their Web sites and don't offer even basic support info, like FAQs (frequently asked questions). Some require customer numbers, order numbers, telephone number 1, telephone number 2, etc. before you are able to send your request for support.
The justification is profitability. Of course you cannot answer the phone for every customer (unless you sell Top dollar values). Nobody expects that. But if it happens that there are calling to many, you might have a deeper kind of problem with your product. Fix it, provide useful online help and automate as much as you can without loosing a personal touch.
Don't forget that a public accessible HELP section on your Web site enhance further credibility of your products and business in the pre-sales phase as well.
Never let profitability be a justification for ignorance towards your prospects and customers. You ought to help them as much as your business cases allows. Your customers are the foundation of your longterm success.
I'll continue this thread of thoughts in the following week.
John W. Furst
About the author: John W. Furst earned a strong reputation among corporate customers for “delivering solutions”, when he was responsible as Product Marketing Manager for corporate mobile messaging products. He teamed up with the sales reps to meet the clients at their location and learned about their needs, listened to them personally.
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Weblog: CustomersAreAlways Tracked: Nov 05, 14:15
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