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There was a time when customers were considered important. A business stood behind its products and services. The word "service" was linked with the word "smile." Not anymore!
How many times have you been disappointed with a company's customer service? Tried to return an item you bought and couldn't? Spent weeks trying to correct a billing error on a statement while getting late charges added to your bill?
We asked people whether they believe customer service has generally gotten better, worse or remained the same. Here are some of the responses:
- "Worse . . . it has gone downhill. I'm always surprised when I get good customer service."
- "Businesses are unresponsive and out of touch with customer needs."
- "Too many businesses over-promise and under-deliver. They hire people who lack proper training and knowledge about the products and services they're offering, and it shows in the service you get."
- "People are rude and short with you. They act as if they're doing you a favor just by being there. Some start arguments and cop an attitude with customers making returns."
In the long run, companies that are driven more by profits, price wars and victory over the competition than by providing excellent customer service will lose out while others cash in. Indifferent attitudes toward customers and lack of accountability and responsiveness leave a void in the marketplace.
It's up to you, the homebased business owner, to fill this void. You most likely rely on favorable word-of-mouth to attract and keep customers, so who better to recognize the importance of good customer relations and service? Frankly, you have more incentive to keep customers satisfied and should therefore be better at it. Whereas big businesses are impersonal by nature because they're hierarchical entities, you are personal by nature because you're a person. Don't get disgusted with the state of customer service--get tough. Set new standards of excellence by exceeding customers' expectations.
Debra Schacher, a marketing communications consultant, is president of Dare to Dream Marketing Services in Irvine, California, and chair of the National Home Office & Business Opportunities Association.