By Peter Shankman
Remember the last time you experienced excellent customer service? How about the last time someone went above and beyond for you at a local store?
Can’t remember? You’re not alone. Sadly, too often today’s normal expectation is bad customer service. The prevailing attitude is, if you work in any service business—from a fast food restaurant to an advertising agency—you’re guilty until you prove yourself otherwise.
So, with apologies to the U.S. Constitution, consider the following “service business Miranda rights:” Your customers have the right to remain loyal. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of business. You have the right for a customer to represent you in the court of public opinion. If you cannot find a customer to represent you, these tips will prove your innocence when presumed guilty of bad customer service:
- Go against expectations. Never forget that many people have been treated badly so many times that they actually expect you to mess up. They expect to receive a soda with ice when they ordered it without. They expect that the dry cleaner won’t have the clothes ready at the promised time. So you’ll look good if you treat your customers even one level above bad. And aiming for really great service not only helps make you look not guilty, but innocent.
- Go above and beyond. Remember the adage “under promise and over deliver”? Sadly, the majority of service-oriented businesses do just the opposite. Ever try to redeem a coupon only to find that it’s not accepted? Or ask for something out of the ordinary, and not be “allowed” to do it? It could be as simple as “extra pickles, please,” or as complicated as asking for a rush job on a Friday afternoon. So surprise your customer by doing that little something extra without hesitation. It will work wonders. In fact, it will make your company beloved, head and shoulders over your competition.
- Address complaints immediately. Got a complaining customer? Find out why he’s unhappy, then make it better. You might think, “Oh, it’s just one customer/client.” But, if you anger one customer, you’re actually angering everyone in his or her circle. If you’re lucky, it’s only a few people. If the person has a blog, your customer service blunder may reach thousands. That’s thousands of potential customers whom you’ll never get a chance to make happy. Take care of each customer problem immediately, before it has a chance to mushroom out of control and do serious damage.
- Let your clients market your business for you. A customer who starts out dissatisfied and ends up happy is a marketing bonanza. First of all, he or she will become the company’s customer for life. In addition, the customer will tell all of his or her friends and colleagues how the company went out of its way to fix the problem. If your people go outrageously above-and-beyond things for your customers and clients, they’ll go to great lengths to tell people how great you are. That’s the best kind of advertising there is.
- Turn problems into solutions. You can become a hero to your clients with just a little planning. If you read about a major news story in your client’s industry, do some research and put a working document explaining the development and the impact it may have on their business. Don’t bill them for it; do it for the good Karma. Make sure your customers know that whenever they come in to your offices or retail establishment, they can read the local paper for free or maybe use your free Wi-Fi, just because. Perhaps from March 1 to April 15, you can strike a deal with a local accountant to offer free tax advice to your customers. The possibilities to get your customers to love you are limitless. Be creative.
In the end, figuring out how to stay ahead of the competition usually requires just a little bit of strategy and a lot of common sense. Follow my suggestions and come up with some of your own and you’ll never have to be worried about being convicted in the court of bad customer service.
About the Author(s)
Peter Shankman runs The Geek Factory, Inc., a public relations, marketing, and crisis management company in New York City. He is the author of Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts and Why Your Company Needs Them (2006). He often ponders client service problems while skydiving or running marathons.