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Match Inside Performance to Outside Promises

Tammie MacLachlan and Mark Lusky

The power of positive performance cannot be overstated, particularly in these tough economic times. Consequently, companies that stick to their word and keep their commitments are following the philosophy of traditional U.S. winning companies, and small businesses often exemplify these traditional practices because they’re still able to touch their customer base on a personal level.

The following are top customer service practices that have proven themselves for Lightning Labels over the past decade.

1. Communicate and clarify procedures, parameters and protocols with customers, retailers, vendors and suppliers. Uncertainty and confusion are two of the biggest customer service killers out there. Generally, even when customers aren’t thrilled about something, they will handle it reasonably well when they’re clear on the rules of engagement ahead of time.

For example, a customer needing rush turnaround when running out of inventory will be much more content knowing what to expect long before the challenge arises. By setting expectations, the vendor can guide the process much more efficiently. And if rush jobs can be completed in the needed timeframe but require additional charges, the well-informed customer can make a reasoned decision—instead of frantically trying to figure it out on the spot.

2. Make customer retention paramount, even over customer recruitment. To bolster balance sheets, many companies today focus chiefly on customer acquisition, sometimes at the expense of customer retention. In the end analysis, it’s vitally important to make present customers feel as special as prospects.

If you’re offering a new customer special to ramp up short-term growth, what can you offer existing customers—particularly long-time ones—to demonstrate that you still value their business? Even if it’s not the same offer, make it comparable, and make it clear to present customers that you’re doing this as a way of showing gratitude for their continued business.

There’s an important dynamic at work here. Often, customer loyalty correlates to how loyal one company feels another company has been to them. If they feel suckered in by a great come on and then ignored, they will likely look around for a new suitor. If, conversely, they feel truly valued, there often will be a strong tendency to stay put—even if you’re not the cheapest option around.

3. Understand that happy customers have big mouths, but unhappy customers have bigger mouths. Word-of-mouth always has been a major business-builder, and negative reports can prove nightmarish, even more so with today’s high-profile social media reviews.

Between social media forums tied directly to the company and independent review mechanisms such as Google Reviews, would-be customers can assemble a pretty or not-so-pretty picture quickly. While fans on social media sites likely will be supportive, reviewers elsewhere will tend to post negative views more quickly than positive. For many, being well-treated is normal and expected. Being poorly treated is an insult and a trigger to vent one’s wrath. That’s why many review sites are populated more heavily by the negative.

Bottom line, keep your customers happy using any reasonable means.

4. Be a problem solver, not problem justifier. Akin to nails on a chalkboard, companies trying to justify a screw-up or perceived screw-up instead of addressing concerns will drive customers nuts. This isn’t about the customer always being right. It’s about honoring the customer’s right to be upset—and doing everything reasonably possibly to solve the problem. If the customer is not pleased with your proposal to correct the error, there is nothing wrong with directly asking what resolution is desired.

Because problems are sometimes logistical and other times emotional, it’s important first to find out what the customer wants in the way of resolution. Too often, customer service reps have a scripted set of responses that may or may not apply to specific circumstances. For example, is the customer upset about a quantity mistake on an order because of that occurrence? Or, is the response really tied to cumulative frustration about a number of errors or miscues? Often, it’s the latter. Without investigating further, a customer service rep may be at a loss to explain a customer’s extreme anger over what is considered a relatively minor mistake.

5. Be an educator and advisor, not just an ordertaker. Most customers appreciate expert counsel and guidance about ways to do things better if offered in a supportive (versus condescending) way. As customer depths of knowledge differ, it’s wise to ask the customer what level of interaction is desired at the outset—and then periodically thereafter. When there seems to be a need in the moment to further educate or advise, simply ask if it’s okay to offer some insights. Most people appreciate input; it just needs to be presented in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling stupid or insulted.

6. Build relationships, not just transactions. This can be trickier than it appears at first glance. Put these words in front of a salesperson, and the message likely received will revolve around upselling. Generally, this is not what’s at play here. Building a relationship does not necessarily require you to know a customer’s personal history—customers simply want to feel they are not just another “income generator.” Also, using “please” and “thank you” is simple and appreciated.

What is at play is the opportunity to make customers feel valued, heard and supported. In turn, this will drive upselling without having to utter a sales-oriented word. Unfortunately, in the mad rush to capture everyone’s business all the time, it’s hard to even be on hold for a customer service rep without getting some type of sales pitch. Often, this produces an undesired effect—making an already agitated customer more upset because of the sales bombardment.

Instead of trying to sell, craft a pitch that addresses ways to serve the customer better. The sales will follow naturally.

7. Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. This one should be easy. Why is it so hard? Is it so awful to admit your company isn’t perfect? Think about the Domino’s Pizza campaign, wherein a company principal acknowledges their past failings and presents efforts to make it right. Backed up by a better product, the chain is gaining ground.

8. Make marketing claims that you can fully support and document. In many ways, this goes hand in hand with No. 7. Market what you can justify, not any spun tale that you think will bring in customers. There’s an old adage that advertising can get people to try something once. But quality will keep them coming back.

In today’s “here today” marketplace, customers will quickly spread the word about marketing claims that don’t live up to performance. For example, rampant wireless telecom industry marketing claims about the best and biggest networks only have validity if customers get what they want when they want it. Dropped calls, slow data downloads and inconsistent performance will drive consumer ire no matter what the ads say.

9. Go the extra mile routinely for customers. People appreciate extra effor, and often will overlook other less-than-optimum issues in the process. While ultimately customer loyalty must tie to consistently high level of performance, it’s better to deal with someone who views you as a friend of sorts than an unfeeling institutional entity.

10. Challenge yourself to keep doing better. F.G. Bonfils, co-founder of the Denver Post, once said, "There is no hope for the satisfied man.” The same holds true for the satisfied company. Most companies invested in the status quo ultimately will fail.

While it’s important to stay connected to historical developments that helped build your company, it’s critical to stay on top of current trends and developments that will propel it forward in the future.

Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printer providing full-color labels and stickers of all shapes and sizes, as well as custom packaging products. She has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for over seven years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label and printing news.

Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008.