Over the years, I’ve seen many clients list customer service as one of their key marketing strategies. The words customer service look great on paper – and that’s usually where they stay. It’s easy to talk about great customer service; it’s harder to actually do it. I have been reminded of this several times over the last few months by:
• the appliance repair company that promises 24/7 service on their website, yet never returned our call;
• the brake company that didn’t tighten the wheels properly on my car after they finished the brake job;
• the plumber, personally recommended by a good friend, who never bothered to show up when he said he would;
• the phone company, which states, after you’ve signed up for their service, that they’ll be by to install your new Internet service between 8 am and 8 pm – take it or leave it!
It seems every company out there is claiming customer service as a priority. The fact is, most of them have lousy-to-mediocre service. You get a reputation for great customer service by simply doing it, not talking about it. You never see Nordstrom or Zappos advertise their extraordinary customer service. It’s their customers who rave and talk about the level of service they get from these companies – that’s what’s built their great reputations. Happy customers who talk about your business define great customer service, not advertising.
So, how to turn your customer service into a key marketing strategy? You do three simple things to differentiate yourself from the competition. One – you figure out what makes you unique. What is the competition doing? How are you different from them? What could you be doing to stand out in the market? Two – you do something that customers care about. Identify some of the common obstacles to buying that exist for customers in your market. How could you overcome them and make buying from you easier? Three – you do something tangible and specific that makes your service stand out.
Some examples of companies that have mastered this strategy include:
• Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers to come and pick you up. That is a significant difference in service that makes them stand out from other rental car companies;
• Mr. Lube lets me arrive without an appointment, and gives me a newspaper and a hot beverage while they work on the car, so a chore suddenly turns into an unexpected break in my day;
• Diplomatic Immunity boutique gives me a call when they get new pieces in from my favourite fashion lines.
All of these companies have something in common. They all figured out small things they could do to make life easier for their customers – things their competition wasn’t doing. They solved problems or challenges that were getting in the way of their potential customers. In other words, they made it easier to do business with them than with their competition. Plus, they do these things consistently. It’s not just once, but every time you arrive at Mr. Lube that you get a newspaper and the offer of a hot beverage. And every time you book a car at Enterprise, they’ll offer to pick you up.
As a small business, you can do great customer service without a huge budget. Concentrate on identifying and doing the small things that make a difference to customers. It doesn’t have to be big, splashy stuff; it just has to be the stuff that your customers will care about. Surprise customers with an unexpected extra that will make them think, “Wow!” Then make sure you to do it consistently – not just now and then. Drill it into all of your staff so they know what’s expected every time they deal with a customer. Check up to make sure they’re doing it.
This kind of customer service program builds client loyalty. As people start to talk about how great you are to do business with, the word spreads. Suddenly your business is known for great customer service. You can’t use customer service as one of your main marketing strategies unless you truly can and do deliver a level of service your customers want and appreciate enough to talk about!
Fiona Walsh started FM Walsh & Associates Inc. when she saw how many business owners struggled to sell effectively. An expert in sales and business development, she has worked with hundreds of businesses throughout North America to double, even triple, their revenues. She offers tips for growing your business at www.fmwalsh.com.