This week we feature an article by Jason Milleisen who shares three simple rules that will set you apart from your competition and help provide great customer service. – Shep Hyken
I once heard about a car dealership who had customer satisfaction scores that were the impressively high. When asked about it, the owner explained one of the secrets to their success.
Every once in a while, they’d send out a car knowing there was a slight problem with it. You read that correctly. They let cars leave the lot with a defect on purpose. A missing knob, a dirty floor mat, things like that. Then, when the buyer reported the problem, the dealership sprang into action.
With lightning quick speed, the dealership offered to have someone come pick up the car, make the needed repair, then swiftly return it to the buyer. They’d also throw in a free oil change and car wash to apologize for the inconvenience
While I’d certainly not advocate this kind of tactic, it highlights an important lesson that every small business owner needs to understand about customer service: a customer with a problem is an opportunity to leave a lasting, positive impression.
Let’s talk about 3 simple (yet powerfully effective) rules that will set you apart amid a sea of cranky reps, unreturned emails, and just plain bad customer service.
Remember The Golden Rule
We all learned this one a long time ago. Treat others how you’d like to be treated. Easy enough. Yet many businesses, even the really large ones, seem to forget the golden rule on a regular basis. I’m looking at you AT&T. They owed me a refund of $920, and it took 10 separate phone calls to get my money back. Would any person on earth want to be treated like that? Of course not!
And it’s not just large businesses who forget the golden rule.
We went out to dinner a few weeks back for my brother’s birthday. Our reservation was for 7:30 pm. Our entrees came out at 9:45 pm. By that time, it was clear that we were tired, hungry, and frustrated. When the kitchen is backed up, it’s not the servers fault. Nonetheless, she was the face of the restaurant, so it was her job at that moment to find a way to make it right.
If you run a business for long enough, situations like that birthday dinner are bound to happen. That’s life. But as small business owners, we should recognize that a customer with a problem is an opportunity to send a clear message: I hear you, I’m sorry this happened, and I’m going to make it right.
Unfortunately, on that night, the server chose to ignore the problem, and when we skipped dessert (that was included with our meal) she didn’t even offer to pack them up to go. As a result, I’ll never go back to that restaurant. Why? Not because the kitchen was slow that night. It’s because they made no attempt to make it right. Give me a free appetizer, or take a drink off the bill. Do something. Do anything to show me that you are sorry that your customer had a bad experience. Otherwise, I’ll assume you don’t care if I come back or not.
Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
If you understand how to properly manage customer expectations, you will eliminate that angry phone call that nobody wants to get from an unhappy client. I practice the art of under-promising and over-delivering on a daily basis, and I can tell you first-hand that it yields amazing results.
Setting expectations is a powerful, yet overlooked tool that you can use to craft your customer’s perception of your business. I always say that despite my inability to do anything handy, I should go into the home improvement business. Why? Because any home improvement project I’ve ever hired for inevitably runs over budget on both time and money. Nothing makes me more annoyed than the 2 week project that runs 6 weeks. A simple solution to this issue? Tell me it’ll take 8 weeks, then finish it in 6. You’ll be a hero! Instead, you’re just another guy who talks a good game but can’t deliver.
I can hear you yelling at your screen already: But what about in a competitive situation? I need that customer so I need to be aggressive!
I get it. You are competing for customers, and in the midst of that, you want to promise the customer something that the competition can’t (or won’t). I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to be better than the competition. What I am saying is that when you make promises that you can’t keep, you’ll end up driving your customers into the arms of your competitors when you fail to deliver on your promises.
Embrace Your Size
I run a consulting shop that employs one person: me. I use that to my advantage, and you should too.
When a prospective customer calls me for a consultation, I make sure they know that I’m the only one who will handle their file, and it will never be passed off to someone else. Is there anyone else who could handle their file? Nope. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in me handling each and every full personally.
Small businesses often strive to appear to be a much larger organization than they actually are. “Fake it till you make it!” is the credo. In some cases, that makes total sense. You don’t want, for example, customers to know that your high-end shoe site is actually a drop-shipping operation run from your bedroom.
On the other hand, being small can be a selling point for you like it is for me. Have you ever sat on hold with the cable company for an hour, only to have a completely incompetent representative muck it up even further? Makes your blood boil, right? And therein lies the opportunity.
Embrace being a real person on the other end the phone that has the ability to resolve their problem quickly and cheerfully.
Who would you rather deal with? The generic customer service person, or Steve, Founder and Owner of ShoeCity.com. Do you know what Steve can do that nameless, faceless customer service reps can’t do? Steve can respond to urgent customer emails after business hours, and take phones call on a Sunday even though the business is technically closed. Nothing like that is going to happen at Amazon. Use that to your advantage.
Jason Milleisen is founder and owner of Distressed Loan Advisors, a consulting firm that assists small business owners who are facing SBA loan default and wish to pursue an SBA Offer In Compromise.
For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to customerserviceblog.com.
Read Shep’s latest Forbes article: Ritz-Carlton Founder Reveals Secrets For Success