Much has been written about the concept of the customer experience and all of the critical customer service components that go into making that experience a good one.
Over the years, though, I have found that customer service really comes down to a few solid foundational things that every business can practice, no matter their size. Your customers here in Western Connecticut are really no different from any customer anywhere else in the country. They all have reasonable expectations for how they’d like to be treated and usually appreciate the little things just as much, if not more, than anything extravagant.
6 Ideas for Improving Customer Service For Your Business
Let’s take a look at these simple things and how you can incorporate them into your business to help drive a better customer experience:
•Put Customers First: Customers expect to be treated as individuals, not numbers. They want to be part of a valued relationship, not just a transaction. When you build your business around customer needs, putting them first and foremost, and not around putting the needs of the business first, it signals to everyone, including your employees, that customers are at the heart of everything you do. For example, if you run a retail store and it’s the end of a long day and you’re just minutes from closing, you stay late to help a customer who comes in at the last minute. And you treat that interaction with as much energy and enthusiasm as you did the first customer of the day. Making them first is more than just a mindset; it needs to be woven through every operational decision and workflow throughout your business.
•Make It Personal: With each customer, you have a wonderful opportunity to get to know them and how best to serve their needs. As business owners, we tend to think of our customers as a group. And while this is true, the group consists of individuals. And each individual has a fairly unique set of needs that you should get to know. Maybe Sally appreciates it when you tie off the end of the plastic bag covering her dry cleaning so her dress doesn’t actually slide off the hanger onto her car’s floorboard. Or maybe John appreciates it when you edge really closely around his mailbox when you’re doing his lawn because he doesn’t like dealing with the bees that those stray flowers bring. The only way to know these things is to ask, watch, observe, anticipate, take notes, keep records, and really make the effort to get to know your customers as individuals. Each customer has his or her own set of unique needs that you can discover in an effort to make their relationship with you special and individualized. Taking this extra step will help to ensure that you know them in ways your competitors never could.
•Be Consistent: There’s a second-generation jewelry store I visited, in a small town in Georgia that has built its customer service philosophy around one simple concept: the owner is in. To them, this means that any customer who walks in the door can have a conversation and an actual relationship with the owner of the store, which helps to build trust and confidence. These two ingredients are essential when selling jewelry. And this jewelry store owner knows that having customers build a relationship with him is something the mall jewelry stores can never do. And he also knows that acting like this makes a huge impact not only on customers but on his employees, as well. He expects all of them to “act like owners” when it comes to how they interact with customers. That consistency – with every customer, with every transaction, by every employee – is a hallmark of a business that has embedded customers at the heart of all they do. And consistency is what keeps customers coming back. They know what to expect every time they come in; they know that you know them and their needs and what they prefer; and they know that when you make recommendations beyond just what they came in to buy that they can trust what you’re suggesting.
•Make It Unique: Setting yourself apart from the competition is absolutely critical for a small business. When I think about myself as a customer and how I make purchases, I feel most comfortable with businesses that make my interactions with them unique. These places are where I feel the most comfortable, knowing that they are going above and beyond and are doing those extra things to make me feel special. Things like opening doors, creating the right environment, making people feel welcomed and comfortable, not rushing them, showing common courtesy and manners and grace. These are all critical elements in building a relationship versus getting to a transaction.
•Make It Right: In every relationship, there will be challenges. This is true with customers, as well. It’s not always going to go the way you want it to. There will be hiccups. But rather than dreading those moments, look forward to them! Think of them as rare but extremely valuable gifts and opportunities to strengthen your relationship with that customer while also uncovering valuable feedback that others may be experiencing. Think about how you felt when you called a company’s customer service number with a question. Maybe you talked with the representative about your issue but they couldn’t solve the problem immediately and told you they would call you back. Then five days went by and you still did not receive a call back. How did you feel about that company and their customer service? Did they make you feel special, unique, valued? Did they seem to be attempting to make it right? But if they had called you back within 24 hours with an update, either to solve the problem or simply to tell you they needed more time, you probably would have felt better about the customer service and their level of commitment to you, the customer. And then take it a step further. What if the company called you back to address your issue and thanked you for bringing to their attention a system adjustment that would better serve all of their customers? That would be a wow moment! By owning the issue and following up on it until it was resolved, a challenge was turned into an opportunity.
•High Tech and High Touch: For those of you who conduct a lot of business online, all of these rules still apply. But there are special considerations for your social channels. You want your customers’ online interactions with your small business to be as tight and orchestrated as those you handle in-person. When you are posting content to your social channels, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Yelp, or your own website, post content that resonates with them and is helpful and genuine. Salesy messaging sounds too self-serving. Instead, post content of a general nature that helps customers solve their challenges or gives them new and fresh ways of thinking about how they could use products that you happen to sell. Just like being in person, the idea is to build a relationship, not just focus on a transaction. If someone has taken the time to reach out to you on Twitter, for example, then they expect a timely response. And timely in this instance is measured in hours, not days and certainly not weeks! Either go all in and build a response system that makes social media interactions a priority or don’t do it all.
I joined Union Savings Bank earlier this year, but what I have seen in that short time, about how we build relationships with our customers and respond to and anticipate their needs has really blown me away. We are hugely committed to employees and customers and communities; we are in the heart of our communities and our focus is on building long-lasting relationships with our customers. Our employees – some of whom have been here for decades – really know their customers. They are always looking for ways we can expand that relationship and make their lives easier with recommendations beyond just new products that we offer.
One great example is our Solutions Teams, which are a one-stop, multidisciplinary team of banking representatives designed to give you exactly what you need. Drawing from local experts in Branch Banking, Commercial and Small Business Lending, Cash Management Services, Mortgage and Consumer Lending, and Investment Management and Trust Services, we’ve built a comprehensive partnership that can help you find creative, holistic and flexible solutions for your business needs.
Another example is our customer charter video, cementing the pledges that we will make good on, for everyone to see. This is our commitment to our customers about how we’ll act and what to expect from us: the promises we make and the promises we keep.
I share these ideas and examples not as a way to sell you on Union Savings Bank, but as examples of the kind of thinking that goes into truly putting customers first. Is there a way you can create something like our Solutions Team in your business? Can you make a very public commitment to your own customer service pledge? Are there ways you can get your employees really involved in the community and learning more about customers? How can you orient your business around the needs of your customers?
When it comes to delivering a great customer experience, customers really don’t expect you to be THE best. They just want you to do YOUR best. And when you are doing your best to truly put customers first, the customer experience piece will take care of itself.
Written by Heidi Capodanno
Director of Customer Experience, Union Savings Bank