What is the biggest challenge facing small business owners today? “How do I compete against the big guys?” Here’s a simple two word answer: Customer Service.
How many times have you heard it?
- I could never talk to a real person.
- They kept switching me from department to department
- I was on hold for 15 minutes and then got cut off.
Do you think these folks will ever come back? 91% of them won’t (source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner)
Here is a startling statistic. 80% of companies surveyed say they deliver “superior” customer service. Only 8% of their customers say those same companies deliver “superior” customer service. (Source: “Customer Service Hell” by Brad Tuttle, Time, 2011)
This is a huge need in the marketplace just waiting to be filled. And…guess what? People are willing to pay for it. According to an Experience Impact Report by Harris Interactive/Right Now in 2010, 9 out of 10 U.S. Consumers surveyed would pay more to ensure a positive customer experience.
Tapping into this unmet need does require you, as a small business owner, to adopt a certain mindset. I’m going to quote Michael Connelly’s hero, Detective Harry Bosch here, “Either everyone counts, or nobody counts.” This means there is no deal too small, no request too unreasonable. Your goal is to say, “How can I help?” and then try to provide a solution.
I’ve had people ignore me because a deal was too small. I have news for you. You never know where a deal is going to lead.
When I was in mortgage banking, I had a nice couple come to me for a small house loan. The Realtor representing them was new in the business and didn’t understand financing very well. This couple owned a house free and clear. They had a contract on it and were going to put the entire proceeds from the sale into the new home they were purchasing. As I remember, the new loan was about $40,00 and I had no trouble getting them approved.
A week before the closing, things began to go wrong. The buyers of my clients home couldn’t get their loan approved because of poor credit and were going to back out. Without the proceeds of that sale, my borrowers couldn’t go forward with the new purchase. My borrowers called me and explained they wanted to help the couple buying their old house if possible. Could I figure something out?
I sat down with my borrowers and their Realtor. I showed them how they could take a small equity line on their existing home and use it as the down payment on the new home. Then I showed their Realtor how to write a lease-option agreement on the old home with a purchase date 3 years down the road. This meant the purchasers of the old home had 3 years to straighten out their credit. My borrowers would have three years of rental income. They could use this toward the payments on the new home and pay their loan down when the deal finally closed.
The result? I turned a small loan into a bigger one. My borrowers were happy. They referred 4 of their friends who were buying or refinancing to me. The Realtor starting giving me first shot at all her business.
My point? Ya just never know.
Now, I know, we can’t help everyone. But…we can try to make them happy even if we can’t help them. If you can’t solve their problem say so. And, tell them why. Then try to refer them to someone who might be able to help.
Vince Lombardi, the famous coach of the World Champion Green Bay Packers, would start each new season by standing in front of his players, raising a football in his hand, and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He would then proceed begin practicing the most basic blocking, tackling, running, and passing drills.
His message? The basics count more than anything else.
Here are 4 basic rules of customer service. Follow these and you will be richly rewarded.
Rule 1. Treat everyone you meet as though they were your highest paying client or customer. You never know. They might turn out to be just that.
Rule 2. Answer your phone calls. Some years ago, I worked for a medium sized commercial bank. They had a rule called “The Sunset Rule.” This meant if you received a phone call from a customer before 4 PM, you were to call that customer back by sunset the same day. Even if all you did was call them back and say, “I’m working on your issue, and I don’t have an answer for you yet. I should be able to let you know by_______.” That customer knew they had been heard. That bank had the highest customer service ratings of any financial institution in town.
How do you feel when your calls aren’t returned? When companies don’t call me back, I assume they aren’t interested in my business. That’s OK with me. I’ll find some body else. But guess what? If someone asks me about XYZ company, I’ll say, “Don’t bother calling them. They’re not interested.”
Which way do you want people to remember you?
Rule 3. When you tell someone you’ll do something by a time certain, do it. Better yet, do it before it’s due. Why is that so hard? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to call people and say, “Where’s the thing you promised me last week.” When you don’t deliver on time, you’re telling your customer they aren’t important to you.
If you can’t deliver as promised, call the customer on the phone. This is crucial. Do not email, do not text. Do not leave a voice mail (unless you are asking them to call you back). Speak to them directly and say, “I’m sorry, I’ve run into an issue and have to move the delivery date to X.” The customer may not be happy, but they’ll know where they stand and that you cared enough to let them know.
Rule 4. When you make an appointment, show up on time. When I was in the Navy, we used to go by Navy time. That meant if you were due to be somewhere at 2:00 PM, you showed up at 1:45. No excuses. If you showed at 2:00, you were late. If you can’t be there on time, call or text.
Whose time is more important, yours or your prospects?
Think these simple things aren’t important? Think again. According to the American Express Survey of 2011, 78% of consumers surveyed have bailed on a transaction, or not made an intended purchase because of a bad service experience.
An Inconvenient Truth
Today it is possible for you to reach millions of people on the internet. But, you still build solid business relationships one customer at a time.
As a small business owner, you face competition that is bigger, better funded, and offering cheaper prices. It seems as though it’s David against Goliath. But you can beat Goliath every time with superior customer service.