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Big Customer Service From Small Businesses

It’s often been said that small businesses are the heartbeat of any growing economy. Nimbleness, less red tape and quick decisions are some of the advantages of being a small business. When interacting with small business owners, quite naturally customer service becomes the topic of discussion. I’m often asked “Errol, should I go to all the trouble of developing a customer service strategy?” My response is “Yes you should! If you expect to retain your present customers, thereby growing your business through retention and referrals, then developing a customer service strategy is a smart step to take.” Here are several suggestions for the small business owner.

Act Like You’re Already There! – Most small business owners operate with the hopes of one day being a large company. Go ahead and act like a large business by developing customer service strategies that incent your customers to remain loyal to your brand. Decide how you will interact with your customer – What will you do when your customer calls? How many rings before you answer the phone? When your customer leaves a voice mail, how long will you take before returning that call? When your customer enters your establishment, how long will it be before that customer’s presence is acknowledged? How will you determine what’s important to your customer in regards to your product/service? When your customer emails, how long before you respond? When you have a long-term project, how often will you provide updates? When your customer complains about your product/service, what will you do next? Now I hear some small business owners saying “Errol, I don’t have time for that! I’m too busy running my business!”  It’s important to spend time working on your business which means answering those questions! Taking the time to do so will certainly lead to establishing operational standards which should transfer into a great customer experience.

Examine Your Processes – Most large organizations understand the need for process documentation, process analysis and process improvement projects. In their quest for growth, small business should regularly take a look at “how they do what they do” Identify your core processes – for example – customer request for product/service, order fulfillment, product delivery, and customer invoicing. What are the current steps for each of your core processes? What exactly does the customer encounter when interacting with your company? Are they customer friendly – for both the purchasing customer as well as internal customers (you may not have too many internal customers yet, but if you have just one other person involved in the day-to-day operation of your business, that’s an internal customer.) Taking this step assists one in identifying exactly what is taking place on a daily basis. Search for improvement opportunities and make the necessary adjustments to insure that your purchasing customer receives a great customer experience.

Establish Operational Metrics – Just as most large companies tend to identify what’s important to measure, it’s critical that small business owners do the same.  Operational metrics act as a barometer to assist you in knowing how your business is functioning. A great way to determine what to measure is to simply ask your customer what’s important to them about your product or service. For example, how about establishing operational  goals for Order Fulfillment, Email Response, On Time Appointments, Customer Complaints  just to name a few. Now I’m big on percentages so let’s go a step further – % of Orders Fulfilled Within Established Goal, % of Emails Responded to Within Established Goal, % of On time Appointments To Established Goal. Utilizing percentages helps one to see at what level the operation is performing in relation to the established goals. Once it’s clear where the operation stands, take the time to get the story behind the number. If an area is performing below the established goal, take a look at what impacts that particular situation. There’s a story behind every number. Take the time to get the story before making any changes. Your willingness to establish operational metrics allows for proactive management of your company instead of reacting to customer complaints or to a customer’s decision to stop utilizing your products or services.

Running a small business can be a daunting task requiring the owner to wear multiple hats. In your quest to grow your business, remember to Act Like You’re Already There by developing customer service strategies, Examine Your Processes to insure they are both customer and employee friendly and Establish Operational Metrics to always know the pulse of your business. By taking these steps, you greatly enhance your opportunities for growth!

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The Mobile Customer

In today’s world, more and more people are choosing to do everything from their smartphone. Ordering dinner, purchasing tickets, paying bills, making reservations, etc. and even more etc.! What does this mean for the service related industries? Should this be a priority when developing or enhancing one’s customer service strategy? When your customer chooses to communicate in a certain manner and your competition chooses to accommodate the customer’s desire to make life easier via technology, the answer is pretty obvious. Either get on board or miss out on the opportunity for increased  revenues. How can one provide a great customer experience to the mobile customer? Let’s look at a few ways to get this done.

Determine what’s important to the mobile customer. – While it’s important to be “mobile friendly”, (your website is mobile friendly right?)  it’s also important to know what’s important to your mobile customer. Mobile customers are busy people and really want to do everything from their mobile device. They want the ability to visit your website, conduct business and move on – while waiting at the traffic light! This means that your website should first of all be built for speed. How many clicks to complete a transaction? How many clicks to locate items? How does the site look on their smartphone screen? Is there a “click-to-call button” available on your mobile site? Are they able to find your locations and open hours? Can they email you from your mobile site?  All of these are important to your mobile customer.

Get an app. – Another way to deliver a great mobile customer experience is to provide a downloadable mobile app. Doing so creates an avenue for two-way communication. A mobile app allows you to be proactive in having the ability to “push” information to your customer. You can advise your customer of future events, sales, changes or delays. Your customer should also be able to contact you as well via your mobile app. Let’s say your customer is running late for an appointment or reservation – can they communicate this information to you through your mobile app?  Now some might say “Why not just make a phone call in this example.” I would say it doesn’t have to make sense – it’s what the customer prefers to do. If your competitors are providing an avenue for customers to communicate in their preferred manner and you’re not, you run the risk of your customers becoming your competitors’ customers.

Pay attention to your data. – Your mobile customer’s activity should provide some great data for you to establish usage patterns. What percentage of your website visitors do so via their mobile device? What percentage of customers who downloaded your mobile app actually utilizes it? What percentage of mobile visitors actually make a purchase from your website? What percentage of customers making reservations do so from a mobile device? When pushing out sales specials to your mobile app users, what percentage take advantage of your offer? What percentage of total sales are attributable to mobile customers? These are some questions that can assist you in determining the effectiveness of your mobile strategy. The answers will surely create more questions – How can we get more customers who downloaded the app to actually utilize it? Does our advertisement wording incentivize our mobile customers to make a purchase? Do we have all of the pertinent information available to our mobile customer? The answers will certainly identify areas of opportunity in the quest to create a great mobile customer experience.

The mobile customer is not one to tolerate a slow or non-existent mobile customer strategy. Make sure yours in running on all cylinders by Determining What’s Important to the Mobile Customer, Providing A Downloadable Mobile App  and Paying Attention to Your Data.

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I Just Wanted To Renew My Vehicle Registration!

Recently I visited a large well-known grocery store near my home to renew my vehicle registration. A simple transaction – or so I thought. After receiving the customary “Next in line please.” summons, I advised the young lady of my reason for being there. Before she even asked, I gave her the information required to complete the transaction. She looked over my information and asked a question that I had trouble understanding because she was looking down at the paperwork instead of looking at me.  I said “Excuse me, I didn’t understand what you just said.” She repeated what she said still without making eye contact to which I responded – “I’m up here, I’m having trouble understanding what you’re saying because you’re talking to the paperwork.” She then raised her head and repeated her question – this time with an offensive tone – “Cash, credit or debit card?”  I advised her that this would be a debit transaction – no response from her. She stepped away, retrieved the registration sticker and stated “Go ahead and make your payment.” After doing so, she slapped the registration sticker and my verification documents on the counter. She then turned to walk away. I said “Excuse me, you’re welcome.” I repeated my statement as she continued to walk away. You can guess what happened next – I asked the other clerk if she could get the manager.

It’s important to maintain eye contact during face to face transactions. This is a basic human interaction principle as it’s  important to make sure the other party feels valued as a person. In this case, making eye contact with your customer also makes it easier to be understood. Make sure that the customer receives a pleasant experience, especially during face to face contact, by self monitoring your actions.  Making eye contact, using the correct voice tone and maintaining the proper body language can go a long in scoring points with your customer. By the way, on my way out of the store, the clerk and I crossed paths. She gave me this sullen look and I gave her my Secret Service stare.

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A Great Customer Service Experience!

Now most people don’t know that besides being passionate about all things customer service, I’m also a photographer. In preparation for a recent event, I realized that it might be a good idea to acquire a lens that’s appropriate for low – light indoor photography. After researching online for the proper lens, I realized that the price was a little higher than what I was prepared to pay. My other option was to rent the lens. That’s when Photo Rental Source entered the picture! I found them via Google and visited their website. The lens for my needs was listed in their online inventory and the rental rate was great. It was simple and easy to place my order via the website. I chose to pick the lens up at Photo Rental Source’s physical location and was greeted by Patrick Garza and Carl Cramer. To make sure that I had chosen the right lens, I informed them of the type of event and lighting situation I anticipated on encountering. They both assured me that my choice was correct and recommended the rental of a Speedlite flash to compliment the lens. I was given a quick tutorial on operating the flash before leaving the location. Needless to say, the pictures turned out great, my customer is happy and so am I thanks to the guys at Photo Rental Resource! Let’s add this one up -1. Customer friendly web site 2. Great rental rates. 3. Employees made sure I was comfortable with the Speedlite. 4. Great overall customer experience! Congratulations to the March winner of the “Now That’s Customer Service!” AwardPhoto Rental Source. Visit their website at http://www.photorentalsource.com. For samples of my photography, visit my website at http://www.shotsphotographyofhouston.com.

IMG_4241Photo Rental Source

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