Customers For Life

Here’s a proven approach to building a service program that wins customers’ loyalty and keeps them coming back

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An old story says there’s a simple reason the railroads failed years ago: They thought they were in the railroad business – when really they were in the transportation business. What business is your company in?

The truth is that, no matter what kind of work your company does, you’re in the service business. To recognize that is to take the first step toward superior customer service – the kind that will bring you customers for life.

We’re all experts in customer service because we are all customers. We’ve bought cars, had haircuts, stopped at restaurants and hired plumbers. We know the difference between companies that treat us right and companies that don’t. We need to apply that knowledge to our own service businesses.

 

Knowing the secret

What’s the value of a customer? Or, more to the point, what’s the value of a customer for life? My brother-in-law, an electrician, began working for a major store chain in its formative years. Forty years later, that chain is still his customer. His firm has wired their stores all over the country. His son is now taking over the account. Just imagine what that one customer has been worth.

There’s a secret to providing service that creates customers for life: Treat customers as if they were friends. Customers are just like anyone else. They appreciate a friendly voice on the phone, a warm handshake, someone who calls them by name and makes them feel important.

Friendship is nothing more than somebody giving and somebody taking. As long as that equation is balanced, you’re friends for life. But the minute you start taking more than you’re giving, the friendship will soon be over. Here are some keys to building those valuable, lasting business friendships.

Start from the inside. Quality customer service depends on your employees: They won’t respect your customers unless you respect them. One way to show respect (not the only way) is to pay employees wages and benefits that reflect their value. Well paid employees will have good feelings for your company, and those feelings will translate to their relationships with customers.

Remember these words of wisdom from German inventor and industrialist Robert Bosch: “I don’t pay good wages because I make a lot of money. I make a lot of money because I pay good wages.”

Keep your game face on. If you want your employees to be motivated, you have to be motivated yourself. Have you ever watched two people warming up to play tennis, then observed how the intensity changes when they start playing the match for real and keep score? What happens in your company? Do you spend all day just warming up and hitting balls back and forth? Or do you keep score and play for real?

Start by acting as if your company provides the world’s greatest service – because unless you believe it, it’s not going to happen. Are you excited about the work your team produces? Show your excitement. Your employees will know your attitude just by the way you show up for work, walk into a room or speak on the phone.

Another way to show you’re playing for real is to measure and reward performance. Measurement motivates people. Establish clear measurements and tie them to rewards. It’s a business axiom that what gets rewarded gets repeated. You cannot manage if you are not measuring.

Learn to listen. Customers buy good feelings and solutions to their problems. Above all, they want to know that the person dealing with them is listening. The better you know the customer, the better you can respond to their needs.

Let the customer talk. Don’t assume you know what the customer wants. Resist the temptation to jump in with an answer. Concentrate on what the customer is really saying. The tone of voice and body language will tell you a great deal about how the person feels. Find out the customer’s needs by asking the five basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? When talking to the customer, refer to them by name.

Take the word “No” out of your vocabulary. Customers hate to hear the word “No.” Of course, you can’t give customers everything they want, but talk in terms of what you can do, not what you can’t do. Appreciate the power of “Yes.” Remember that the customer may not always be right – but that the customer must always win.

Give customers more than they expect when they call. Think of what you can give that the customer can’t get anywhere else. One example: Clean up thoroughly after you finish the job. Many service providers don’t do that. If you do, the customer’s perception of quality in your work will be elevated.

Mind the little things. It’s not just the big, successful job or the lower-than-expected price that makes loyal customers. People notice the small personal touches – because most companies don’t bother with them. Commit to doing the little things that make the big things happen.

Send thank-you notes after you finish a job. Meet a good customer for lunch or coffee. Remember birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. If your customer is a business owner, surprise them with a referral to a prospective client. Actions like these are the essence of a long-term relationship.

Encourage feedback. That means for good or ill. The unhappy customer who complains can be your best friend. Most people, if dissatisfied, will simply choose another company next time. Those who tell you they’re unhappy are giving you a chance to redeem yourself. In the end, they may remember you more for the way you handled their complaint than for the mistake you made.

What’s more, complaints can tip you off to things about your business that need to be corrected – so you can prevent dissatisfaction in the future.

Make a plan. Long-term customers don’t appear by magic. They are built through sustained effort. Take a look at your organization through the eyes of a customer. Check the cleanliness of your vehicles and your employees’ uniforms. Listen to the way the office people answer the phones and converse with customers. Take what you learn and create an action plan for keeping customers for life. Your plan might include:

• Hiring people who have a service attitude.

• Making every decision with the customer in mind.

• Empowering your employees to do the right thing for customers.

• Continuously reviewing your performance and asking how you can do better.

• Making customer service an agenda item at every team meeting.

• Making sure employees are well trained before they interact with customers.

When all else fails, remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s the ultimate secret to building customers for life.

Donald MacDonald is founder and president of A Corp/Rooter-man, a franchiser of drain cleaning and plumbing services based in Billerica, Mass.



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