I received some feedback today from folks who said it was difficult to find the article among all the ads on the link I provided, so I am reposting the customer service article here to make it easier to read. Let me know what you think. And also, please take a look at Josh Ellsworth’s blog from March 19 2013, he said a lot of the things I also have on my mind. With spring here, it’s time to take stock, clean house (and clean your heat press) and set your priorities for the next few months. Although I’m sure many of you are too busy with spring season to even be reading this right now! Hope everything is going well in your neck of the woods. We’d love to hear your stories about how your heat printing business is blooming. In the meanwhile, here’s the article:
PUTTING CUSTOMERS FIRST
Companies that stand the test of time do not do so simply through providing superior products and services. It takes much more than that to weather the ups and downs of the ultra-competitive business world, particularly in this industry. What it takes is a culture that emphasizes customer service.
Of course, practically every company in existence claims to offer good customer service, but we all know first-hand (bad experiences at stores and restaurants, for example) that truly stand-out customer service is anything but commonplace.
I’m speaking from long experience when I say that a company can’t expect to enjoy any kind of longevity without earning a reputation for honesty and integrity, and without being known as the kind of company that puts customers first. Service truly must become integral to the company’s culture in order for it to be second nature. So how can your company build customer service into its DNA? How can you establish and maintain this core value, even in difficult times? The key is to nurture and maintain a partnership philosophy, which means treating both customers and employees as respected business partners.
Five customer-service principles
While ours is a family-owned business, I didn’t always work for the company. I established and ran multiple retail engraving businesses and was involved in producing events, including concerts. I even owned a Miss Universe pageant franchise, and held one of South Eastern Michigan’s largest networking fairs.
Working in such a wide variety of businesses gave me first-hand experience in dealing with the challenges faced by business owners. I saw that business owners needed education and after-the-sale support; I saw that they needed more than just products to be successful. When I came back to the family business in 1972, I knew we needed to concentrate on giving our customers everything they needed to be successful after the sale. Ultimately, a desire to be a partner in the success of our customers became the cornerstone of the company. It’s a five-step approach that has served us well, and can serve your business well, too. Consider the following steps:
1. Offer Choices: You must offer customers a range of choices, options and opportunities. Doing so starts by identifying the needs of the customers, and offering a number of ways to meet those needs. It is important to give customers access to all the garment solutions, embellishments and pricing options available. A company that claims top-notch service yet doesn’t provide a range of choices and solutions for customers is falling short of its promise.
2. Offer state-of-the-art products: Options and innovations go hand-in-hand. Offering options means developing the product selection customers need, offering the best, most innovative solutions.
3. Educate both customers and employees: Customers can easily get confused by the numerous options you offer, especially if some of those options are new, cutting-edge products, garments and embellishment styles they haven’t seen from other companies. That’s why it’s important for you to focus on education. You must work hard to make sure that both sales people and customer-service representatives fully understand the products and services you offer. Hands-on training will help your employees better understand the day-to-day problems of your customers, and how your products provide solutions to those problems. So consider putting your employees through an intensive education process. After all, the best garments and embellishments in the world won’t mean a thing to your company if your own employees don’t understand them.
The next step is to extend this education to customers. Show customers the solutions you offer and let them see and learn first-hand how your company’s products and services will benefit them. The more they know about your products and services, the more they can grow their own businesses, and their sales with you.
4. Offer on-going support: In some ways, you’ll already be offering support to customers via your education efforts. However, support should extend beyond the sale. It’s important that customers know that you’ll be there for them if something doesn’t go right. They need to be able to get information from you when they need it. This could mean 24/7 phone support, a web site, whatever it takes to give customers access to the information they need whenever they need it. More than ever before, customers love the freedom and power to view their order information online at their convenience. That said, your web site should include a place where customers can offer feedback, as this further empowers them and helps them feel like you’re truly listening to their needs.
Of course, you must truly be listening, not just collecting feedback then ignoring it. Pay close attention to the kinds of questions and concerns customers express after the sale, and the kinds of issues they face. This information can help you better develop your company’s offerings by giving you on-going, real-world feedback.
5. Give employees appropriate perspective: There’s an old story about a man who went to a stone quarry and asked a mason pounding a stone what he was doing. The mason said “I’m pounding this stone here, trying to square it”. The man went to another mason and asked what he was doing, and the mason said “I’m trying to square this stone that goes right next to the cornerstone of that three-thousand-foot cathedral”.
The different responses show two totally different types of motivation: One employee saw only the work in front of him, while the other saw how that work fit into the bigger picture. The more your employees understand how your products and services are used by the customer, as well as how their specific portion of the job contributes to the whole, the better will be their motivation and the better job they’ll do.
Customer Service Suggestions
Here are a few tips that every company’s front-line employees – whether on the phone or out in the field – should always remember, especially when handling angry or upset customers:
Customer service representatives should have a smile in the voice. They should be friendly and polite; and perhaps most importantly, patient.
Empower employees to handle issues promptly. The last thing dissatisfied customers want is to get bounced from person to person until they reach someone who can actually resolve their issue. Likewise, anyone answering your company’s phones should be able to answer any questions customers ask.
Part of offering good service is simply listening. Sometimes when customers are frustrated, they simply want to vent.
Don’t worry about whose fault a situation is. What matters is making the customer happy, not assigning blame. That isn’t to say it’s not important to determine the cause of a situation so that it doesn’t happen again; just don’t get caught up in the blame-game. Also, repeat the customer’s objection back to him or her to ensure that you understand the situation completely.
Be willing to make good even when your company didn’t actually “make bad”. Take for example, the occasion when a customer orders the wrong color. By being willing to rush out the correct color in time to meet your client’s deadline, you become a hero and may earn a customer for life!