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Customer Service is arguably the most important part of your business. It affects everything from how much someone is willing to pay for your service to how long they’ll be a client. It determines whether you can transform a client into an advocate, and what kind of publicity – good or bad – they’ll be giving you. Ultimately, customer service determines what people think of your business, and what they tell others about it.
Despite how important customer service is, small business owners and entrepreneurs often spend very little time thinking about customer service. It’s one of those things they assume just means “being polite” and “service with a smile”. Many figure that as long as their service is great their clients will be happy.
If we’ve learned anything from the heated competition in the dot com sector, it’s that client experience comes first. This means that what your actual service is only accounts for a fraction of how clients form their opinion of your brand. And past an initial order, customer service is the real deciding factor on whether or not they ever use your services again.
Successful professionals put a lot of time and energy into customer service, knowing that being friendly and providing a good product are the obvious things everybody is trying to do. These things are only a starting point, and the question becomes: how do we take our clients experience to the next level?
Often the answer is either very expensive or very time consuming. Solutions ranging from hiring on-call staff to answer questions, to providing free “rush” orders, can make providing stellar customer service a costly endeavor. Some feel that the payoff is worth it, but for the solopreneur there has to be a better way than exhausting both you and your wallet.
Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do right now that don’t take a lot of time or money.
When clients know what to expect, they’ll come back again and again. This is the magic behind some of the world’s biggest brands, and it’s why franchises even exist. People love the comfort that comes with knowing exactly what the customer service experience will be, and what the product will be at the end of it.
The craving for consistency comes from a need for safety and comfort: when we feel like we know what’s going on, we immediately feel good about the experience. Mystery is only good in an entertainment product – outside of that, it’s a severe liability. People want to feel comfortable. There are things you can do to take advantage of this.
The first thing most people do is to clearly define their service deliverables. This means spelling out in detail on their website exactly what people will get when they purchase the product, how much it costs, how long it will take, and what custom options are available. Making this very clear and easy to browse, ideally with the use of colorful fonts or graphics, can make people feel really good about the initial purchase experience of your service.
As most virtual assistants know, however, the real product is the experience the customer has working with you. This is something that goes well beyond anything a website could show them.
Fortunately, to establish a feeling of consistency, all you really need to do is tell them three things:
Tell them this information verbally, send it to them in email, put it on your website and add it to your email signature. Make sure they are keenly aware of what to expect in your working relationship, and how it will work from there.
Once done, it’s up to you to follow through. Make sure that you stick to the schedule, and that there are absolutely no times where someone tries to get in touch at an expected time but is unable to. If you can establish these practices and stick to them, client will love you for your reliability.
Your clients will sometimes say or do something you don’t like. This is unavoidable and inevitable, so when it happens, don’t assume that it’s time to get rid of them as a client. This is the first reaction many people have the first time they have a conflict with a client, and it’s a terrible wasted opportunity. Not only are they getting rid of a client they might have been perfectly happy with after that isolated incident, but this might even end up being a way for the two of you to improve your relationship.
The important thing to do in these cases is give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe something you said was legitimately confusing. Maybe they didn’t express what they wanted at first, but genuinely thought they had. Maybe they’re just having a bad day.
What we’re doing here is approaching their emotional distress like a mystery, and we need to work hard on discovering what lies behind it. Spend some time asking questions so you can get to the bottom of why they’re expressing these concerns, and then say the magic words: “I can imagine that would make you feel upset.” (Or say angry if they’re angry.)
This simple reflection back of the emotion, rather than the specifics of what was just said, changes everything. It acknowledges them as a human being, and places value on how they feel about what’s going on. This shows them that you do indeed care, makes it easier for them to calm down, and instills a certain amount of trust in you. It shows them that you understand and want to work to make things better.
From there, make sure you’ve explored the issue fully, and work together to plan a solution that would work the best for both of you.
Remember that it’s not enough to just listen to your clients: you need to demonstrate to them that you’re listening. This means when you’re face to face you are making eye contact, sitting up straight, and avoiding doing other things while they speak. These things show that you’re listening, but of course that’s only a start. As the conversation proceeds they’ll need other assurances that you’re not imagining being somewhere else.
Nodding at appropriate times, leaning forward slightly and offering small affirmative interjections now and again are all ways you can indicate to your client that you are listening intently to what they are saying. Another great way is by reflecting back to the client what they’ve said using their own words. Do this throughout the conversation, occasionally preceded by sentences like “Okay just to make sure I’ve heard you right,” or “So you’re saying…”. So, for example:
“We really need to make sure that the text is in a narrow column, 500 pixels at the most, and that it stays flexible for mobile displays as well.”
“Okay so we need a flexible column for the text that can only ever get 500 pixels wide at the most.”
“Yes, that’s it exactly!”
By repeating things back to the client, you not only demonstrate that you’ve been listening, but you also improve your memory about the things that have been said so far because you’re stripping the ideas down to key pieces, using their key words, and then running it past them for confirmation.
Done correctly, active listening can make people feel heard. The only risk you ever run with it is that people enjoy talking to you too much!
If you take these deliberate actions, you’ll be able to effortlessly transform forgettable or even distressing situations into positives stories your customers can share with others, and all without spending a penny.
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