A few months ago, author and customer service guru Michael D. Brown appeared as my guest on Indie Business Radio. As the author of Fresh Customer Service, Michael had a lot to say about the decline in customer service over the years and what Indie Business owners can and should do to make sure that poor customer service habits do not kill their businesses.
If you missed that show, listen to it now so you can incorporate Michael's tips to help you love your customers. I know Michael would have some choice advice to offer the company my business partner husband and I had to deal with earlier today. Let me tell you what happened.
It all started yesterday when Darryl ordered an high quality Canon camera so he could take even better pictures for his growing client base. Instead of ordering from his usual camera equipment supplier, he tried a new one, which advertised online the equipment he wanted for far less than his regular supplier.
Always the careful businessman, Darryl called the new company to make sure his understanding of what they were offering, and for what price, was correct.
Once everything was confirmed, Darryl placed his order online.
This morning, Mr. West, a customer service representative from the company called, ostensibly to confirm Darryl's order. The speaker phone was on and I heard the whole conversation, which quickly turned into a classic example of bait and switch.
Mr. West told Darryl that the product he ordered did not really come with all the bells and whistles he thought he had seen listed at the website. Mr. West further said that, in order to get all of the stuff he ordered, he would have to buy a "kit," which of course contained things he really didn't need.
This, of course, increased the overall price by several hundred dollars.
Every time Darryl tried to ask a question or request clarification, Mr. West interrupted him to tell him that he could get everything he needed and more for less money than he'd pay anywhere else in the world, if he would just order the kit. Oh, and the extended warranty.
It quickly became clear that Mr. West was not the slighted bit interested in what Darryl wanted. He only wanted to sell as much stuff as possible and then move onto the next sucker.
After about 20 minutes of Mr. West's going for the jugular, all the while completely ignoring every question my patient husband asked him, it was over. Darryl canceled the order and asked Mr. West for the order number, email address, etc., so the cancellation could be documented.
More Bait and Switch (also known as B.S.)
Mr. West then announced that the credit card would be charged a 12% cancellation fee. Of course this is all before the order was confirmed and shipped. End of phone call. End of customer relationship. Beginning of blog post with my top 3 simple things you can do to improve customer service.
1. Ask How You Can Be Helpful. "How can I help you?" This simple question sets the tone for your interaction and also does wonders to smooth over a difficult situation. It lets the customer know that you are focused on them. Not on defending yourself. Not on up-selling them. But you are fully and completely focused on enhancing the next few minutes of their lives.
Customers who are genuinely interested in having their problem resolved will be able to articulate exactly how you can be helpful, and they will be open to alternative solutions if you offer them.
2. Listen. At the end of the day, people just want to be heard. So after you ask how you can be helpful, show them that you mean it by listening. By giving them a chance to explain things from their perspective. Let them do that.
Of course there will sometimes be people who just want to keep you on the phone so they can complain for an hour. In such cases, you have to decide whether their beef is worth an hour of your time. Each situation will be different, but the bottom line is that, the first step to handling a customer service issue is to listen well before responding. Only after you've heard enough to pinpoint the situation from the customer's perspective will you be able to respond in a meaningful way.
3. Let the Sale Go. First impressions are important. But so are last ones.
Letting the sale go may be difficult, but sometimes, it's best for everyone. If a customer is clearly upset with you, and you feel as though there is nothing you can do to make things right, then politely and respectfully let them go. A nice email message can go a long way toward making a good impression as you make an exit.
Like Michael said on my show, nobody has a monopoly on products or services nowadays. The only way you differentiate yourself is through the experience you offer to your customers.
Customers today want you to make an investment in them by giving them a positive and memorable experience that they cannot get anywhere else.
Oh, and what did Darryl do after canceling the order? He placed his order with Adorma, his regular supplier. It took about 3 minutes and was completely B.S.-free.
Moral of this blog post? Good customer service pays. Oh, and also, don't order from 1 way photo.com because the customer relationship is definitely — well, "one way."
What about you?
Have your painful customer service experiences helped you see things from your customers' perspective? What are examples of the best and worse customer service you've ever received? What tips do you have for offering supreme customer service?