Everybody's business: Customer service shouldn’t be shortchanged during startup phase
Small business specialist
Mistakes happen and good customer service is one way to set a business apart. Small businesses need to build and maintain a stellar reputation so that conversation about it is always positive. A savvy owner of a startup business will do research to make sure there is a market for any product or service before launching it; what customers want from it; and how to price it.
Industry customer-service practices should be researched to determine the extent and type of support available. Considering customer service during the startup phase will ensure the extra cost of providing it won’t take the company down.
Knowing how the competition handles blunders is critical and some of this may appear on the Internet. Blogs can provide a source of information about customer service — good and bad. Online reviews of products and businesses abound, and customers are an excellent source of information.
Think of complaints as market research and then respond by fixing the problem.
Most customers are realistic when problems crop up and appreciate a staff that goes out of its way to correct mistakes. An unhappy customer made happy can be a loyal business advocate whether by word of mouth or more formally. What some businesses don’t understand is that consumers remember businesses that cater to the customer. The store that employs enough people to assist and answer customers’ questions is the store most likely to survive. It’s all about demonstrating a respect for its customers’ time and energy. In an economy struggling to right itself, just about any business can distinguish itself from competitors by ramping up customer service. When local businesses are competing with Internet-based businesses around the world, outdoing the competition means offering customers good value.
Any business that deals with the public is usually only as successful as the first impression it makes on customers who visit the business, call or e-mail. Employees should be trained and empowered. The owner should be close by to back up front-line workers as soon as the customer’s needs exceed their authority or expertise.
Every customer wants to know they are appreciated. Customers will go elsewhere if they feel ignored. Let customers know you appreciate them by acknowledging their presence and saying thanks through words and actions. Strive to make it easier to buy from you than from your competition by offering convenience and simplicity. Treat your best customers best — if you take care of the top 20 percent of your customers, 80 percent of your revenue should be secure. Listening to customers is a type of research often uncovers hidden opportunities. Look for ways to provide more value, of a more pleasant experience, and greater service.
Gordon Smith is a business specialist at the Small Business Development Center at Clovis Community College.