One of the most important things about having a business is the customers. Without them a business does not make money. So often I see people complaining about the service they get from companies, which they feel is lacking.
In larger companies where the customers don’t have much choice as to who to go to I can see this being tolerated because there are so many people committed to larger businesses, but small businesses don’t have that luxury.
If word gets around that a small business treats their customers poorly, it’s likely to fail. I’ve been on both ends of this situation and I’m always surprised when I speak to someone who won’t help me or doesn’t seem to want to be bothered.
That said, here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with customers.
Be Courteous and friendly
It’s amazing what something as small as this can do. Even particularly difficult customers can be disarmed by a pleasant demeanor on the other end of the phone. They’re more likely to feel like you’re doing the best you can to help them, even if you can’t offer much. Of course everyone has an off day, but with some practice you can suppress things like that most of the time. Treat others as you would want to be treated.
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It’s not always possible to take a customer’s call right away, although you should when you can. People hate to wait and some customers could be under a time crunch to get their issues resolved.
It’s getting close to the holidays now, which means it’s even more common for customers to be in a crunch if something is wrong with a gift they ordered, or if you’re a B2B business, the other business may be waiting on you to resolve an issue that lets them resolve issues for their customers.
Generally speaking, always be prompt about responding to the customer, finding out the details of the problem, and providing a resolution time frame if an immediate solution cannot be provided. It will, at the very least, show the customer you care about helping them and not leaving them hanging.
Give Periodic Updates
If the issue a customer calls about takes time to resolve (as in days instead of minutes or hours), make sure you call the customer to give them updates. Otherwise they’re left wondering if you’re doing anything to help them or if you’ve forgotten them. It can be painful to tell them you’re still working on it when they’re wanting something resolved quickly, but in the long run it’ll make them feel better that you haven’t forgotten them completely and lessens the chance they’ll take their business elsewhere.
The Customer is Usually Right, Even When They’re Not
This can be a tricky one. Everyone has heard the saying that “the customer is always right”. This has never sat well with me. Companies have policies and procedures for a reason. If you truly can’t help a customer or they want something way off from what you would normally do, it’s perfectly fine to say so (politely of course).
Either they’ll understand or they’ll take their business elsewhere. And really, would you have wanted to keep that customer in the long term if they thought they could get you to bend to their every wish? Simple one-off requests can be accommodated to keep a customer that seems reasonable, but going beyond reason should be out of the question.
These seem like simple, common-sense things, but unfortunately I’ve seen many examples throughout my career of interactions with customers being mishandled. Sometimes those customers were lost, or sometimes they stayed on longer hoping things would get better (or they sought out third parties who could interact in the manner and timing they preferred). As business owners, not only take these to heart yourselves, but if you have employees, be sure to go over how to interact with customers so they can better serve your company’s interests.