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Match Inside Performance to Outside Promises

By: Tammie MacLachlan and Mark Lusky
Posted: May 10, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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.