By Mike Parker

Customer satisfaction is the lifeblood of any company and leads to and creates customer loyalty.  It is an attitude that cascades down from the owner and/or managing director to every employee.  It will empower every employee to do what it takes to keep customers happy; providing each customer an experience that is above and beyond their expectations.  It is important to say that if the owner doesn’t support his/hers employees to do what’s right, both morally and financially, then customer satisfaction, and hence loyalty, is difficult to achieve.  Towards the end of this article, some policies and procedures are included that can help make this an easier task.  This article is geared towards taking care of service customers but can be applied to sales as well.

People do business and make friends with other people they like. We used to use the phrase “kill them with kindness”.

It’s actually very easy…be nice.

Attitude is everything.

Before you even talk with a customer, check your attitude.

Everyone has some drama happening in their lives and you will need to leave yours at the door.  This is perhaps the hardest thing to do.  You need to make a conscious decision to be genuinely nice towards everyone you speak with, both customers and coworkers.  Your attitude can be read on your face, in your tone and it also carries over the phone.  So before you pick up that phone or greet a customer face to face, take a look at your own face in the mirror and do a “check up from the neck up”.  Ask yourself; would you want to do business with you?  Smile!

Remember the drama?  Well, your customers have it too, and quite frankly, they don’t care about yours.  Something is wrong with the widget that they paid good money for.  They now have to take time away from their already hectic life to come take care of this.  The dog chewed up the annual report they are due to give at the stock holders meeting.  The kids need to be picked up from day care.  The baby spit up on their best suit.  I could keep going but you get it…Drama!

When you meet your customers, you only have a few seconds to create their first impression of you so your greeting is very important.  Smile and say”Hi, welcome to XYZ Company.”  Make eye contact, offer a firm dry handshake, introduce yourself and ask “How may I help you today?”

Pay close attention to what they say, make the customer feel the only thing that matters is their concerns and that is what you are there to help them with. LISTEN to your customers concerns.  You have two ears and one mouth, use them in direct proportion.

The following link is to an article on the importance of listening to your customers.

When the customer has finished, recap what they said to verify you have a good clear understanding of their concerns, and then ask them to confirm you understood it correctly.  If possible, put it in writing and have the customer sign it.  Choose your words carefully (grasshopper), sometimes “problems” can’t be fixed but “concerns” can; “please let me review your concerns to make sure I’ve got it right” sounds much better than “your problem is…”.  Tell them what to expect and be very clear about it.  Set a reasonable expectation and always try to exceed it.

At times you may encounter a customer that is very angry and wants to take their frustration out on you. Do not take it personally.  Their anger is directed at you only because you represent the company and you are the one who is in front of them. Remain calm, put yourself in their shoes and show some empathy.  It will serve you well if you can understand your customers and express a genuine desire to help.  Showing that you are interested in helping to resolve their concerns will help to defuse their anger.  An example of what to say is, “I can understand your concern.  If my widget broke, I would be upset.  If you will allow me to help you, I think we can get this resolved.”

People need to know what is going on, and the better you are at keeping them informed, the happier they will be.

How much is this going to cost me?  Always receive permission to spend your customer’s money before you do anything.  If you charge for diagnostic work before a final estimate, tell them about all of the charges.  If additional fees and taxes are automatically involved, add them in and say “plus tax.”  If something could go wrong with small incidental parts, bump your estimate by 10%.  Some customers get very upset if the bill exceeds the estimate by 25 cents, but they are blown away when they come to pay the bill and you saved them some money.  Every time you give someone an estimate, have the customer initial the estimate; increasing their understanding and enhancing their recollection when it comes time to pay the bill.  If you give an estimate, you need to stand by it or let them know upfront that there may be additional costs before you start the work.  When something is authorized over the phone, it is even more important to document the call at the same time authorization is given.  Not only could this help jog their memory, but it can also help protect you if any dispute ever went to court.  This can be done by writing down the following information:

*  The work that is authorized

*  The person’s name who is giving the authorization

*  The amount of money that was authorized to do the work

*  The time and the date that the authorization is given

*  The repair order then needs to be initialed by the person receiving the authorization

How long is the work going to take?  Customers need to know how long they are going to be inconvenienced because they have drama…’nuf said.  Be honest and open with them; if there are any unknowns, advise them about some of the variables.  If this happens, you need to tell them when you are going to call them with an update, and make the call at the time specified. Don’t forget to do the “check up from the neck up.”  Continue to set a time and date for the next update until the job is complete.  When the job is finished, call the customer with all the information that they need.

*  The job is done.

*  The details of the job completed.

*  The total amount of the final bill including fees and taxes.

*  When they can pick it up; your hours of operation.

*  Where and how they can settle the bill (“You can pick up your keys at the cashier’s window.  We accept most credit cards, Visa, MasterCard and Discover, and cash but we do not accept checks.”).

*  Ask for permission to call as a follow up to their experience.

Do you follow up?  Most people appreciate a follow up call.  Some people however will tell you if they have a problem, you will know about it and they don’t want a phone call (drama).   If you go to someone’s voicemail when you are following up, leave a message, for example:

Hi this is Mike from XYZ Company and I am calling as a follow up to see if you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding the work we did on your widget.  If you do have any concerns, please give me a call at (XXX) XXX-XXX.”   Most of the time everything will be fine but if someone does have a concern, do everything that it takes to resolve it.  Be pro-active and stand behind what you do.  There may be times when things go wrong and management needs to be involved for advice, permission or to take over.

Are the right policies and procedures in place?  Running an efficient business requires the ability to multitask at the highest level.  It is not necessarily easy, but if the right policies and procedures are in place, it becomes manageable.  Priorities must be set in order to handle this daunting undertaking.

The first priority must always be the customer who is at your business.  They require your full, undivided attention without any interruption.  The only exception would be in the case of an emergency and then apologize to the customer before taking the call.  If a customer walks in while you are on the phone or helping someone else, do not ignore them.  Acknowledge them so they know you see they are there.  This can be done by establishing eye contact, a smile and a nod of your head.

The phone – every telephone call that is not answered is a lost customer.  The phone must be attended by someone on a full time basis.  Timing and method of answering are equally important.  Answer before it can ring a 3rd time.  The person answering the phone is the first contact that the customer has with your company and creates that first very important impression.  He/she must speak very clearly, and never forget to do a check-up from the neck up before they pick up the phone.  Here is an example of how the phone should be answered;

Hi, thank you for calling XYZ Company. This is Mike Parker, how may I help you today?” or end it with, “How may I direct your call?

The person the call is intended for should be paged and the call redirected to their extension, unless they are with a customer.  In that case, here is an example of what should be said; “I’m sorry Bill is with a customer right now, may I transfer you to his voicemail?” or end with, “May I take a message for you?”  All messages taken for someone else should be in writing and contain the following information;

*  Who the message is for

*  Who the message is from

*  The time and date of the message

*  The phone number to return the call

*  A short message

*  Initialed by the person taking the message

Then the customer should be told; “I’ll make sure that Bill gets your message and I’m sure he will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you for calling.

If a customer chooses to be put on hold, do not leave them unattended for more than 2 minutes; because then it is no longer “hold”, it is now “ignore.”  Keep checking back with them with the option of continuing to hold, going to voicemail or taking a message.

Phone extensions should not be allowed to ring more than 3 times before the call rolls to voicemail.  Your voice mail message should be descriptive enough so the customer knows they reached the right extension.  Here is an example of what the voicemail message should say; “Hi, this is Mike Parker. I’m sorry that I cannot take your call right now.  I’m either on the phone or helping another customer. Your call is important to me, so please leave your name, number and a brief message and I will return your call as soon as possible.”  Living up to your word is as important as anything else that you do, so return all calls as quickly as you can.

When a customer feels that they have been treated better than they expected, not only will they keep coming back, but they will also tell others about your wonderful service.  This is a loyal customer who will help your company thrive and grow.