How small businesses can deliver good customer service
Satisfied customers remain loyal to you and recommend you to others. Alastair Kight, managing director of GRITIT, offers five simple steps for delivering good customer service
Skills can be taught, so it’s more important to employ staff with the right attitude, says Alastair Kight. Photograph: Paula Solloway/Alamy
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Monday 5 November 2012 05.46 ESTLast modified on Tuesday 6 November 201210.53 EST
Customer service is the badge that every company wants to wear because satisfied customers remain loyal to you and recommend you to others. New customers require time, effort and a significant marketing budget to acquire.
It’s not hard to keep customers happy, even though we all know from bitter experience that few companies get it right. All that’s needed is to put their needs at the heart of everything you do. Following these five simple steps will help.
Engage with your customers at every opportunity.
Communication is vital because your customers want to feel valued and respected. They’re also looking for peace of mind that they can trust you will deliver what you promise.
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Tracking the market and anticipating your customers’ changing needs will enable you to think innovatively and stay ahead of the competition. This can be done by:
• Communicating regularly with your customers to understand their changing needs.
• Conducting regular customer feedback surveys so you get an honest assessment of your business from the people that matter.
• Monitoring the wider economy and analysing how changes will impact your customers.
• Tracking your competitors so you understand where you are in the market and how you can differentiate.
Offer clients flexibility, so they get exactly what they want
There’s no point listening to customers if you don’t then give them what they want. One size does not fit all, particularly in a tough economy, and you have to be able to cater for most budgets. Put systems in place that enable your staff to work within a framework, but also give them enough flexibility to offer bespoke packages. This could be, for example, a pay monthly option, or a rebate agreement, which pays a refund to clients when the average number of service visits are not required.
Employ the right people
You are only as good as your weakest member of staff, so you need to hire carefully. It doesn’t matter what the management team promise, you will only deliver when the people at the sharp end are doing their jobs well. At GRITIT, we’re not focused on a candidate’s qualifications or skills because our comprehensive training programme will teach them. Instead we hire people for their attitude, which is far harder to teach. Those with the right attitude are also often the most willing to learn.
In our business, operations staff work under the most extreme conditions, are on call 24 hours a day and they never let our clients down. In fact, they often go beyond the call of duty: this may involve spending extra time, for example, clearing snow that is a potential hazard from areas of a site that are not part of our contract.
Develop your staff
Even if employees join with the right attitude, they may soon become disillusioned if you don’t involve them in your decisions and give them the opportunity to develop.
Making your staff feel valued will help them to give their very best every day which in turn benefits your customers. Some approaches will suit individual businesses better than others, but these programmes have helped us:
• Mentoring: encourage staff members at all levels to mentor newer team members. Not only does it give them pride and drive to unlock other people’s talents, it develops stronger teams.
• Training: put a comprehensive training programme in place so that staff can see how their development will progress step by step.
• Additional opportunities: use regular appraisals to identify other opportunities which will broaden your employees’ skills and add value for your customers.
• Internal awards: public recognition when a member of staff has gone over and above for your clients will encourage others to do the same.
Invest, invest, invest
Investment in staff is vital, but to be able to offer the best in customer service, you must also invest in the best equipment and systems. If you don’t, then you’re asking your staff to keep customers satisfied with one hand tied behind their backs.
Finding the right systems for your business is vital. If you don’t have the skills internally consider outsourcing or recruiting an expert. You’ll need to spend time working out exactly what you need technology to do to support every aspect of your business and then develop a system that’s customised to your needs.
We’ve invested in a pioneering management platform that enables us, among other things, to communicate instantly and effectively with customers and the operations teams, and track vehicles and operators in real-time. Importantly, we can utilise the most up-to-date weather forecasting services and automatically, via weather forecasts, trigger gritting and snow clearance services. These innovations undoubtedly help our staff to deliver an exceptional service.
Customer service has never been more important; in the current climate consumers are shopping around and demanding more value for money. Businesses that thrive will not pay lip service to customer service, but instead ensure that everything they do is based around doing the very best by the people who choose to buy from them.
Alastair Kight is the managing director of GRITIT, the winter risk management specialists.
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