By David Royce, entrepreneur.com
Founder and Chairman of Alterra
Cash isn’t the only type of currency in business. The collective attitude and satisfaction of your customers is just as important to your bottom line as your cash flow. Meaning the way you treat your customers and respond to their questions, needs and concerns has a direct impact on how your company performs.
The customer-company relationshipis much more nuanced than the timeworn adage of “the customer is always right.” Even when the customer isn’t right, their opinions are still important. Below are the secrets to developing a happy, healthy relationship with your customers.
Provide your front-line employees with the power to allow exceptions to rules. Exceptions aren’t about pandering to customers to keep their business, but instead about creating a means for employees to consistently exceed expectations. By going the extra mile and making sure customers feel special, you can develop a relationship as strong as a long-lasting marriage.
My company has a very specific set of core values as guiding principles to govern our behavior, including with customers. While other companies may tailor their principles to rope in as many customers as possible -- or be unflinchingly rigid to protocol when a customer has a unique request -- we instead live by the spirit of the law. It’s actually okay with our management to be liberal with services (within reason) to keep customers happy and onboard.
Teach and encourage your employees to be creative within the parameters of your core values, and you will create customers for life. Even better, when your customers see your employees providing them with an enjoyable, honest experience, these loyal advocates will bring you additional business by referring their friends.
Work together to overcome differences.
Your bottom line is never about money -- it’s about your relationship with your customers. For example, several years ago, we utilized a practice of sending emails with notices for upcoming service visits. Although this method was convenient for the company, our surveys told us that many customers didn’t check their email frequently and therefore didn’t feel properly informed about the day and time we would be stopping by. Based on this feedback, we switched our offering to provide text message alerts and/or automated voicemails at the customer’s preference. This immediately decreased our miscommunication complaints by more than half.
When you encounter issues, ask yourself if this is a recurring problem? Is this important enough to a large body of our customers that it necessitates a change? If so, make the change immediately to improve customer happiness and retention. All organizations must learn to embrace change if they wish to stay in the game. Remember, if your organization is not growing, it’s decaying.
Keep the fire alive.
The customers you hear from and see most often when perusing online reviews, Facebook comments and other customer service horror stories, typically fall on the extreme ends of the satisfaction spectrum -- red-in-the-face angry or over-the-top advocates. The customers you want to focus on most, however, are those that lie in the middle. They rarely complain or voice an opinion, and then quietly leave without providing any specific feedback. These customers may not be dissatisfied per se, but they never fully bought into the company.
A complaint is an opportunity to resolve a potential problem, and statistics show that you can make a customer 10 percent more loyal to you than before the negative experience occurred by simply reaching out and showing you care. Being proactive with customers in the middle of the spectrum is one way to help ignite them and turn them into lifelong customers, so we incentivize our customers to provide honest feedback after every service.
For example, we discount our next service if the customer will take a short, three-minute survey to tell us how we did. This allows us to take the temperature of our customer base daily and stay relevant with evolving trends in their needs, wants and concerns.
Remember, it’s critical to respond in a timely manner when negative surveys are provided. Our company policy states that any less than satisfactory score requires a manager to reach out within one hour of the survey’s completion. You’d be amazed at the positive responses we get from customers when we call and ask how we can make things right.
Get out of toxic relationships.
Finally, when you’ve done all you can do to go the extra mile and it’s still not enough, learn to set those customers free. Customers who are extremely unhappy will do almost anything to get out of their contracts. Whether it’s cursing at your service representative, threatening scathing reviews online or manipulating any available loophole, people who don’t want to do business with you will continue to seek a way out.
Some employees may lose their cool or stop going above and beyond with customers who have turned hostile. The customer is leaving, so why does it matter, employees may say. This way of thinking is shortsighted, and refusing to let a customer go out of pride can draw more negative attention than keeping the customer is worth. Letting toxic customers go without conditions helps you curate the type of people with whom you want do business. It saves them time and frustration, helps you maintain the high standards of your brand and prevents future issues that result from being stubborn with customers.
When it comes down to it, good customer service isn’t rocket science; it’s just about finding ways to deliver it better than the competition. It may take a little more time, it may cost a little more product, but saving a current customer is typically five times less expensive than picking up a new one. Providing that extra wow factor will not only help you build a lifelong customer base, but it will make employees feel better about what they do daily and develop pride in your company’s mission.