There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.Sam Walton
Customer service, in my opinion, is the backbone of our society. It drives our connections with businesses and with the people who work there. It affects our day-to-day lives within our workspace; we should treat our co-workers with the same empathetic and competent care as we do our customers. There is also an element of customer service in our personal friendships and relationships. After all, we should be kindest, most gracious and most caring to those with whom we are the closest.
In this day and age, genuine connection can be hard to come by. Many of us use the distant convenience of the internet to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, preferring the ease of digital communication over quality physical time together. I, for one, literally have to force myself to pick-up the phone and stretch my vocal cords in a real conversation vs stretching my already dexterous fingers on the phone.
It’s likely safe to say that our personal, and even our professional, relationships can begin to reflect to show the wear of our disconnection over time. People we once shared consistent easy candor easily begin to feel a bit more inaccessible than in times past.
Since COVID-19 showed itself on the world scene, it has really changed the way we do business. Zoom calls are more prevalent than face-to-face conversations. In fact, our doctor appointments and likely our upcoming income tax appointments will be done via Zoom calls. I would also wager that all of us are having more things delivered to the home than ever before. And tragically, we are even having meals delivered rather than celebrating in the company of others at fun and lively restaurants.
One thing that has really struck me over the course of the last several months is the way with which many employees (in stores and even on-line) do not seem to care. I encounter their apathy a couple of times a week or more between on-line interactions, visits to the grocery store and even when submitting resumes. Don’t companies realize that jobs are at a premium these days and there likely are eight qualified persons looking to replace each inadequate employee who provides poor service?
So, my prevailing question is: Are these employers and businesses unaware of the quality of the customer service they provide? Is there so much business out there that they just don’t have the time or inclination to care? And congratulations to those that do an exemplary job out there. There are many of you who show your care in every interaction and go out of your way to make a positive impression. Thank you!
Our customers are our business in many ways; they’re the ones we do it all for and for whom we stay in business. But if they have no way of bridging the gap between themselves and us, chances are that gap will only get wider. All people want to feel seen, heard, respected, and valued.
From my days working in hotels, customer service has been ingrained in me. I’ve been to more training classes than I likely can remember. Though despite all the training one receives in any industry in which one works, rule #1 should fall back to character: Are you committed? Are you going to greet the day determined to make a positive difference in your interactions with others?
If you’ve committed yourself to ensuring your customers feel the love, then I challenge you to revisit the following tried and tested tips and watch your customer relations flourish. Today is National Get to Know Your Customers Day. So why not start today — and stay committed!
Whether it’s a comment, question, or concern, anything your customers have to say should not only be acknowledged, but replied to as appropriate and promptly. For example, just the other day, I had a gift certificate that expired one day ago. I called this major on-line catalog store to inquire about an extension of any sort. I was told my request would be forwarded to a department that could not receive calls, and that I should wait 5-7 business for a response. Really? Seems like such an easy task to me.
Listen to your customers, and provide a response. According to the Harvard Business Review, even “a mere acknowledgement of the customer’s problem can defuse initial frustration and put the customer back on the road to loyalty. Instead of the customer seeing the company as the enemy, a sympathetic response can reorient the situation so that the customer now feels that the company is on his or her side.”
At the daily forefront of any manager’s mind should be a consideration for the ways in which their clientele may be taken for granted. Even though you may be keeping your customers in mind throughout the development of your business, it’s possible you missed the most basic step: talking to them. If you have a social media page for your business (and you should), make sure you’re checking your DMs and comment sections the same way you would your email.
Using customer’s names when addressing them will make your responses personal and customized to their specific needs. This is just one way to be sure that customer service is your business’ #1 priority. Nine times out of ten, people will choose to patronize a business that reflects them as their most ideal self over one that is just in it to turn a dollar. And that especially applies to businesses they feel really care about them and their experiences.
Business is hard — especially during these uncertain times. There is no arguing this point. Time can feel fleeting and your responsibilities may become overwhelming and stressful to the point that your only focus is how much product you sell or what your sales’ report reflects at the end of the month.
Despite the pressures — and we all have them — try to keep in mind that if you’re feeling focused on the bottom line, chances are your customers feel it too. Remember that your clients are also people. Given the current COVID pressure-filled lives of many, remember customers have their own thoughts, feelings, and lives outside of what they bring to your business. If they aren’t responding positively to a change in your business, or you’re not getting the kind of feedback you wanted from a new release of some kind, try to put yourself in their shoes.
Who are they? Where are they from? What do they want from your product? Why should they trust you with their business? These kinds of questions can help you fully consider the personhood of your customer-base and aid you in making the connections that will last a lifetime.
Have a Mission
Otherwise referred to as a “purpose,” “goal,” and a myriad of other terms, a grounding mission is necessary for connecting with the majority of your customers. If you don’t already have one, it’s more than likely you can’t attract a loyal clientele because they don’t currently have any reason to see themselves in you.
Nowadays ethical shopping and living are many customers’ main concerns. They want to know what kind of businesses they’re supporting and how those brands will reinforce their sense of self.
The easiest way to ground yourself in a central purpose is to ask yourself why you started your business in the first place. Once you know this, you can share it with those who align with your goals. If a customer can end up feeling better about themselves by patronizing your business, they will be more inclined to engage with you and your services again and again!
Start thinking about your customers as friends. Many of our closest relationships are with those we consider like-minded; they are people we respect and who offer their respect to us in return. You can only connect with a customer when you humanize yourself to them and in most cases that starts with a common goal.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you’re in the midst of developing a new product and want to know what your customer base would most like to see, ask them.
Creating a newsletter or email-subscription program for customers to keep up-to-date is an excellent way to start a dialogue about what they’d like to see more or less of in your business. This is also a great place to use social media to your advantage. Consider reaching out to propose a collaboration among brands that have similar values and services to your own in order to broaden your customer-base! Not only will you find new fans of your business, but you can give your clients a greater sense of trust in your brand by showing them that other professionals respect and admire what you’re up to.
Honor Your Word
Last, but certainly not least, you must endeavor to keep your promises to your customers (and everyone else, for that matter). Leading your business with honor and integrity is a surefire way to not only attract customers, but keep them.
Keeping your word should color every aspect of your customer relations. From announcing a sale to promising ethical transparency, clients will watch closely to see if you follow through. Consistency is key here and it’s up to you to put this practice at the forefront of your biz. Show up for your customers big and small and they will show up for you. It’s about helping people build a relationship with you through trust and mutual respect; the moment you break that trust you will see clients fall away and stay away. Avoid making promises you can’t keep but if you do, be honest about it. Being upfront about your failures just as much as your successes will allow your customers to see the accountable leader you are and the principled business you’ve built.
Building and maintaining connections with your customers is hard work. Like any relationship, it’s a garden that takes careful tending to. There will be moments where this is easier said than done, when you feel disconnected from your business and purpose and lose sight of the very real humans we call “clients” or “customers” or “patrons” and not “people.”
Any meaningful relationship is a balancing act of give and take; in this case you need to give more than just a product or service. In many ways you must learn to give yourself to your customers in a professional yet distinctly personal way.
Responsibility, empathy, purpose, communication, and honor comprise the foundation of any important relationship, so why should it be different with your customers?
All of the efforts you make to promote your business and customer relationships are only as good as the service extended by your employees and the commitment they share with your business vision — and that requires constant training.
You can employ all of the principles suggested above — and many more. However, if your associates aren’t equally committed to come to work with a smile on their face, a positive attitude, and the goal to create the best experience they can with every interaction, all of your hard work will be for naught.
Make an intentional effort in your employee and customer relationships to connect with them, invest in them and respect them — and see for yourself the difference it makes!