Customer service, in the dictionary, is defined as “assistance and other resources that a company/business provides to the people who buy/use its products/services. This seems pretty cut and dry, black and white, plain as day…however customer service is really actually quite difficult to define in general terms, because every individual and company has many interpretations, understandings, and ultimately practices of “customer service.”
I grew up as the daughter of a restaurant family. In my family, quality customer service is PARAMOUNT to our success in business. Our values, and core beliefs translate into exactly how we treat our customers – we treat you exactly as we would like to be treated when it is our turn as customers. The restaurant provides hundreds of meals to customers on a daily basis, and in our business, the customer was maybe not always right, but deserved the respect of being heard. And after we heard it, we made sure we actually also listened (two very different things). I was raised with the idea that without customers there is no business, so you care about them, because they are why we are here. We care about their day, we take it personally when they have a complaint, we get emotional when they pay us a compliment, basically – we love them. For better or worse they are a part of what we do. And we are grateful for every single one of them.
Now that I have my own business, I use the experiences I had as a child, and the passionate commitment to excellence that has permeated the last three generations of my family to help shape the kind of customer service that we offer to our clients here at MDE. In the restaurant, my grandfather Gene believed that to welcome someone in through the door for a meal was no different than welcoming someone into your home. The same idea applies to what we do – just a little differently. Our brides & grooms are inviting us into their lives while they plan their wedding. If there is something more personal and emotional than that I don’t know what it could be.
I love my clients. I am excited to give them exactly what I promise, and THEN SOME…I always go above and beyond for them. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Some may think I am nuts for it, but at the end of the day, when a client looks at me and says “thank you” it is worth more to me than most anything. So, when it becomes my turn to be a client, it is my hope that whomever I am looking to for expertise, a product, or a service feels that same passion and that same dedication to providing customer service for me.
This however, was not the case recently when I encountered some genuine frustration with someone, attempted to voice that frustration and got absolutely no where. I was let down. Big time. It was frustrating, angering and it actually really left me feeling a bit hurt and alot offended. This got me thinking about customer service – from both the customer/client point of view and the business point of view. It was a good lesson for me as a business owner – a reminder really, of how I do not want my clients to feel…So I did some research and these were my favorite tips on the subject…I thought I would share:
Speed is everything, especially when a client is requesting something that’s time-sensitive. Try to reply to clients as soon as you can. Procrastinating on a response to a client’s email, phone call or voicemail doesn’t help anyone; you’re going to have to reply eventually, so why not do it as soon as possible? Avoid that “mark as unread” button in your email client.
Even if you can’t work on the task they’re requesting you to accomplish right away, at least let them know you got their request and then supply them with a timeline of when you’re able to get the task completed. If you can’t find the time to perform the task, it will be considerate of you to let them know as soon as possible so that they can make alternative arrangements.
Feeling like you’re lost and that you don’t know what’s going on is one of the worst situations you can be in when you hire someone. Even if you don’t have anything major to report, you can still let your client know what you’re working on and how things are progressing. Are you on track on milestones? Did you find something that might become an issue later on? Status updates give clients reinforcements that they’re involved in the project.
If you’re experiencing trouble with something, let them know right away. It shows that you’re keeping them in the loop and that you have things under control. If it’s something major, communicating your concern right away allows clients to plan for possible delays in the project’s completion.
If a client asks for you to do something that truly won’t cost you a lot in time and income, you have the option of going the extra mile and doing it for them. Not only will this result in an indebted and happy client, it can also go a long way in terms of keeping yourself in their radar for future projects.
If you did something that didn’t end up working, you should repair it. A quick way to lose a client forever is not admitting that you are at fault and not fixing your own mistakes. You should always strive for a high-quality output; it shows that you have a high level of standards.
Not taking responsibility of your own blunders is a sure-fire way of gaining a bad business reputation. Transparency is important in any business; service work is no different.
Listen to Your Clients; Who would like to be heard!
It’s important to listen to what your clients are communicating to you. Like, really listen. Understand what they are saying and ask for clarifications on things that might be ambiguous. Clients might be unfamiliar with certain terminologies in your profession, and what you think they mean might be different to what they actually mean.
Listen to what their needs are, and then offer your suggestion on the best way to go about fulfilling their needs.
*As a customer, telling what you would like to convey versus how to convey it can be a very effective tool when communicating. Example: “I would love these arrangements to feel more sunny” versus “I want more yellow” – make sense?
Keep Your Promises
If you say you’re going to do something, make sure you do it. It’s part of being a professional. If you need more time on something, you should let them know as soon as possible, not after you’ve already missed the deadline. Honoring your commitments is very important.
Be Patient – we are, and would like you to be too
If you feel like the client is overstepping their boundaries, let them know in a cordial and professional manner. You just don’t want to start yelling and cursing at the people you make a living off of. Maintain professionalism at all times.
Know Everything You Need to Know
You are a paid expert. Someone is giving you their hard-earned money to do something they believe you have a high level of mastery of. You need to keep yourself up-to-date with the profession and always be ready to answer questions your client needs to know. If you exhibit signs that you don’t know your craft inside out, you risk the chance of ruining your professional reputation.
Put Yourself in the CLIENT’S Shoes
If you were in their shoes and were being treated the way you’re treating them, would you enjoy that experience? If so, you’re doing a good job. If not, you probably want to get a little better. It’s important to constantly evaluate the way you communicate with others. Our profession is heavily reliant on communication skills.
If you work merely for profits, the service you provide will suffer. However, if client satisfaction is a priority, profits are bound to follow. This is why, you need to forget about numbers and make sure that every client walks away satisfied to have dealt with your company. Having a good, solid, satisfied client base is a much more valuable asset than money.
Think about how much value a happy; recurring client is worth over the lifetime of your business, compared to a one-time dissatisfied one that made you more profit on that initial sale. When you think about the value of your clients, you are thinking long term, and this vision is what makes the difference between a “flash in the pan” and a company that is here to stay.
Communicate your message effectively
Never assume that your clients will understand your logic or that they will read between the lines. This can lead to misunderstandings and a poorer experience by the customer, which is not what you want if your priority is customer satisfaction
Resolve issues promptly/be proactive/find the solution
Make it a point that all questions and concerns are dealt with as soon as possible. You wouldn’t believe how many customers I hear say that they are impressed with the quickness in response. Try to turn whatever negative arises into a positive.
If you really want to put the customer experience over the top, you have to provide more value than they expected. Bad service falls below expectations. Good service meets the expectations. Excellent service surpasses expectations.
For example, you may want to give out an extra gift or a discount for a future purchase. You may want to give out some extra information on whatever it is that they bought. Seriously, it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive…just something thoughtful and that compliments their purchase accordingly. Everyone enjoys getting a freebie.
Reward your loyal customers
Did you know that for a business, it is much more costly to find a new customer than to keep a current one? This is why every smart business should include in their marketing plans the budget to reward loyal clients. They are the ones that are the driving force of your business. They are the ones that are more likely to purchase anything new from you, and they are the ones that will talk about your product/service and refer you more customers. There is no stronger marketing than this, and no amount of money in the world can buy this type of advertising. Reward their loyalty generously, and treat them like “kings”, because in the end, they are the reason that you have your “kingdom”
Get customer feedback
It is extremely important to mold & adjust your business in the liking and the vision that will appeal to your customer base. This is why it is crucial to hear what they have to say about every aspect of their experience dealing with you. Sometimes, when you run a business, it is hard to have an unbiased opinion on things. We tend to think that everything we do is right. This is why getting feedback from your customers can open your eyes on things that may require changes or improvements. Doing this will better your business and provide an even better experience for customers. There is always room for improvement no matter what we think and getting feedback from our clients proves to them that we take this seriously and that customer service is a priority.
All great information to avoid frustration and make for a happy, positive and successful work relationship, and avoid frustration!