From the August 2002 issue of Startups

(YoungBiz.com) - Your keen advertising techniques are bringing customers through your doors. Now it's up to you to keep them coming back.

Whether your business offers a product or a service, there will always be one constant factor that makes or breaks your bottom line: your customers. Offering those little extras now can mean a big payoff down the road.

The key to good service is the Golden Rule: Treat customers the way you would want to be treated. A friendly hello when they walk in the door or an offer to help them find what they are looking for are great ways to start, but people can get that most anywhere. You need to make a habit of putting customers at the top of your priority list and showing them in every way how much you appreciate their business.

There are plenty of ways to keep customers on your good side. Here are a few:

  • When you are at work, you are working. Do not have personal conversations with friends in the store or on the phone. All your attention should be focused on the people buying from you.
  • If you are performing a service or ordering something for a customer, get all the details in writing--their name, address, phone number and all the details of their order. That way, there is always a written record in the event something goes wrong.
  • If something does go wrong, offer to fix the problem immediately: Give a price reduction, offer an alternative or offer a refund. On that note, be sure to have a clear, upfront exchange or return policy.
  • If your customer needs your product or service by a certain day, set your own internal deadline a few days earlier. That way, you are sure to have it ready on time. And if it is ready early, call the customer and let him or her know. He or she will be more than happy to get it sooner rather than later.
  • Be friendly and helpful, but not overbearing. Just make sure the customer knows you are there for anything he or she needs.
  • If you employ others, make sure they know your customer service policies inside and out and can treat customers with the same high level of courtesy that you do.

Research has shown that when someone has a bad experience at a place of business, they are much more likely to tell a lot of people about it and aren't likely to return. On average, people don't spread the word about good, everyday service, but when they receive excellent service, they will tell everyone they know about it. Hint: Good word-of-mouth means free advertising!

It Pays to Be Different
There's a recipe for success, and Naveen Jain, 21, owner and CEO of Sparkart, a Web/print design and development company based in Novato, California, would be quick to tell you that there's more to it than just a great product. It's also about customer service, something this booming company is dedicated to. "All our customers have direct access to me; the buck stops here," Jain says. "I'm available 24 hours a day by cell phone.

"Being available is the best customer service anyone can give. We're there to help them and take care of their concerns in a timely matter. And that's been our philosophy since day one."

Sparkart offers unique extras to boot. The company offers an "extranet," which is a password-protected site where each client can access previews of their designs and give feedback. "If a client sends a suggestion through the extranet, we can revise their design within 24 hours," says Jain. "It's an interactive experience."

Here are a few more added bonuses that will keep them coming back:

  • Have them fill out comment cards and place them in a monthly drawing for a product or discount. (You're not only making them happy, but also getting important feedback.)
  • Give a discount for every three people they refer to your business.
  • Have customers sign up on a mailing list so you can send out notices of specials or coupons.
  • Offer frequent-buyer cards. For example: for every six car washes, they get one free, or for every $300 they spend with you, they get a $15 gift certificate or credit.

Try out some of these tips and techniques, and in no time you will have customers driving across town or surfing the Internet to get to you. And don't be surprised if you find that some are willing to pay more for such great service!

Next Step
  • Little things make a big difference when it comes to hanging on customers--especially when the economy is down. Here's why.
  • Get the whole story on Sparkart's success at YoungBiz.com.