The most reliable method for evaluating whether your business truly offers great customer service is customer retention. Customer-retention results reflect the customer's decision to purchase more of your products and services.
After much research in this area, we know that these "re-purchase" decisions are based on three important evaluations.
First, the customer decides whether you delivered the basic service promise. Did you deliver the package on time? Was the repair done correctly?
Second, the customer makes some touchy-feely evaluations about the way you delivered the service. Was the experience enjoyable? Were you friendly? Was the place of business safe?
Finally, the customer recalls how you responded to complaints or inquiries. The extent of the customer's decision depends on the complexity of your service and the depth of your relationship with each other. Relationship-building is the key.
Small-business owners and managers can create the necessary relationships with customers by concentrating on the following proven and tested factors:
Deliver good service every time.
You must exceed the customer's "zone of tolerance" for speed, quality, timeliness, accuracy and completeness. Just doing the job is not enough.
Improve the service encounter. This is mainly the people side of the equation, but you must also be aware of such things as customer wait times, backlog levels, checkout duration and quote times. Manage these processes so your good people have a chance to use their customerfriendliness in a positive way.
When problems arise, respond well. Make sure the response is accurate, equitable and quick. Ensure that the right people in your business are empowered to fix the problem and to reward the customer in some way.
Manage all components of price.
Price rollbacks to meet the competition are not generally a good thing. Spend more time on accurate invoices and reducing the complexity of your bill.
Monitor usage. If you haven't seen a customer in a while, you better take the time to touch base. Do you have a system in place to give you this information?
Care about convenience. Be as easy to do business with as possible. Small businesses often lose customers because of location, hours of operation, wait times, equipment downtime and other delays. Take a look at these areas and make sure you know your strengths and weaknesses.
Emphasize ethics: Customer perception is critical. Deceptive behavior, safety violations, price changes and the use of service fees all affect this area. Customers even report that a "know it all" approach is a way to intimidate and is not appreciated.
Collect data. Make sure that you use an effective service-quality checklist or customer survey. Capture the kind of information that you can act on. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions.
Build relationships. Ensure that customer communications are aligned with the goal of securing a long-term relationship with your customers. Sales promotions designed to build immediate transaction-type business might do more harm than good.
Ackerman is president of the Customer Retention Clinic. He also serves as an adjunct professor of advertising at the University of Indianapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.