Great Customer Service: Provide It Or Your Competition Will

by Pamela on November 24, 2009

In a Down Economy, Great Customer Service is Key

The lack of great customer service has been a big topic of conversation among my friends and family lately. What happened to that old adage “The customer is always right?” Never have I experienced such poor customer service as I have in the last few months, and I was surprised to hear how many other people feel the same way. My husband and I are renovating our kitchen, so I’ve been buying more products than I usually do. Honestly, I thought renovating a kitchen in a bad economy would work in our favor because great customer service is the key to success when fewer people are buying. Small businesses are clamoring to get you to buy from them- or ARE they?

As I’ve purchased the last round of items to make the kitchen complete, I’ve been surprised at the number of orders that have been botched up and then completely mishandled by the vendors. Here are just four examples that stand out: We ordered restoration glass panes arrived for some of the cabinets and two of them had major defects (huge bubbles) in the glass. I had custom roman shades made and they were all wrong, from the size of the shades (after paying $75 to get a ‘professional measure’), to the reveal, to the time it took to complete them- 3 ½ months after quoting me 6 weeks. Two cabinet knobs out of the batch arrived defective- visibly warped. The tile arrived in good shape, but the quantities were so off the mark after careful measuring by both my tile installer and me, that I ended up short on one kind of tile and had two extra boxes of the other left over when the job was done. Money and tile wasted.

Very few of these vendors took responsibility for the mistakes. I got no apologies, and only one, the restoration glass folks, corrected their mistake without a fight. Some still won’t rectify the situation. The initial answer in all cases was the same: “these are custom order items.” My response was almost always the same as well: “And…?” I always waited patiently for a proper response that never came. With the fabric store manager, I went so far as to put my coaching hat on to no avail. I took the hat off and said “I want you to tell me why I should ever do business with you again?” I consider that to be a pretty fair question for which she had no answer. I even gave her some possible responses: “How about ‘We’re so sorry for all the miscommunication, Pamela. We’ll take 20% percent off the shades, or we’ll remove the measuring fee’?” In my mind, custom items, in particular, should arrive in ‘custom condition.’ And if not, I expect them to be replaced or some concession made.

Some of the companies I dealt with carry ‘one time sale’ products, so perhaps the incentive to please me wasn’t there. I didn’t choose ‘big box stores’ to buy these items. I primarily coach small business owners, so I try to buy from small businesses. Until this past month, it has been my experience that small business owners often try harder to make the customer happy in order to build a relationship and get both referrals and repeat business. Most of the small business owners that I coach have this mindset. They strive to provide great customer service, and their staff is instructed to do the same.

What message does it send to your customers when you don’t rectify a mistake? Let’s say that you start a small business selling cabinet knobs and your vendor, a large company, sends out a couple of warped ones that should have been caught by someone in quality control. You may not have seen it because the vendor drop shipped it for you. What do you do when you get that call from the customer, who isn’t angry, but just wants you to replace the knobs? In this case, I’m the customer and I know that you’re a small business owner. I know you didn’t manufacture the knob. I just want to get what I paid for. It’s up to you to duke it out with your vendor on my behalf.

There are so many small businesses struggling to survive and thrive in this economy. If you don’t provide great customer service, there are a lot of other small business owners who will. You don’t have the bureaucracy that the big stores have so you can be more accommodating. What are some things that you can easily do to satisfy customers without effecting your bottom line? Being courteous, reasonable, apologetic when necessary, and making some kind of concession if a mistake is made will take you a long way.

Mistakes happen. It’s how you handle it that counts. If you don’t even try to make your customer happy, be prepared to answer the question: “Give me one good reason why I should ever do business with your company again?”

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