Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How's Your Customer Service? (Part 1)

When I ask merchants what sets their business apart from the competition, nine times out of ten the response is the same - customer service. Upon further questioning of what makes their approach to customer service unique, it is hard to nail down a specific answer other than "it's great".

It seems that many define great service as providing the customer with the product they came in to buy. I would classify that as being efficient, but certainly not a testimonial for superior customer service. When I think of places I have visited and found the customer service to be of note, it was more about the overall experience than the actual service.

The experience is what makes a customer want to return to support your business and within this lies the opportunity to set your business apart. Independent businesses are, by nature, positioned to deliver an unforgettable customer experience because of their typically intimate setting, select product offerings and small staff.

Here are few things you can do to create a memorable customer experience:

Be An Expert: Know the product you sell. You should not only be able to answer questions about it, but offer interesting information or background about the item and how it came to be in your shop. This will not only enhance your customer's experience, but establish you as an expert in your field. This will ensure your designation of the "must see" person when your customer is in the market for your product or service.

It's the Small Things: When was the last time you delivered an item to a customer's home? What about calling after the fact to see if they are satisfied with their purchase? In my town we have a shop that offers free gift wrap with every purchase. From a photo album to a rubber duckie, if you want it wrapped, they have you covered. For this reason (and their fabulous product selection), whenever I need a last-minute gift, they are my only stop.

Go Old School: Send a hand-written thank you note. Yep, I said it, hand-written. I know, it's crazy, because it is no longer a standard practice, but how fantastic would it be to see your customer's face when they realize that you took the time to actually send them a note through snail mail. Don't underestimate the power of the mailbox moment. And don't wait for a purchase to send a note. Send a "thanks for stopping in" or "great to see you" note. You'd be surprised how much customer loyalty can be generated for the cost of a stamp.

The bottom line is that in the ever-expanding retail landscape, consumers have more options than ever. The key is establishing that outstanding customer experience that keeps them coming back for more.

Next Time - How's Your Customer Service - Part 2: Main Street Managers, This One's For You!

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