In their book, Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting a business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors reveal the things your customers would love to hear you say, words that will bring them back over and over again.
Establishing customer service guidelines is nice, but you need to put those principles into action with everything you do and say. There are certain “magic words” that customers want to hear from you and your staff. Make sure all your employees understand the importance of these key words:
“How can I help?” Customers want the opportunity to explain in detail what they want and need. Too often, business owners feel the desire or the obligation to guess what customers need rather than carefully listening first. By asking how you can help, you begin the dialogue on a positive note. And by using an open-ended question, you invite discussion.
“I can solve that problem.” Most customers, especially B2B customers, are looking to buy solutions. They appreciate direct answers in a language they can understand.
“I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” When confronted with a truly difficult question that requires research on your part, admit it. Few things ruin your credibility faster than trying to answer a question when you are unsure of all the facts. An honest reply enhances your integrity.
“I will take responsibility.” Tell your customer you realize it’s your responsibility to ensure a satisfactory outcome to the transaction. Assure the customer you know what they expect and will deliver the product or service at the agreed-upon price. There will be no unexpected expenses or changes required to solve the problem.
“I will keep you updated.” Even if your business is a cash-and-carry operation, it probably requires coordinating and scheduling numerous events. Assure your customers they'll be advised of the status of these events. The longer your lead time, the more important this is. The vendors that customers trust the most are those that keep them apprised of the situation, whether the news is good or bad. And make sure you follow up with updates.
“I will deliver on time.” A due date that has been agreed upon is a promise that must be kept. “Close” does not count.
“Monday means Monday.” The first week in July means the first week in July, even though it contains a national holiday. Your clients are waiting to hear you say “I deliver on time.” The supplier who consistently does so is a rarity and well-remembered.
“It will be just what you ordered.” It will not be “similar to,” and it will not be “better than” what was ordered. It will be exactly what was ordered. Even if you believe a substitute would be in the client’s best interests, that’s a topic for discussion, not something you decide on your own.
“The job will be complete.” Assure the customer there will be no waiting for a final piece or a last document. Never say you will be finished “except for ...”
“I appreciate your business.” This means more than a simple “Thanks for the order.” Genuine appreciation involves follow-up calls, offering to answer questions, making sure everything is performing satisfactorily and ascertaining that the original problem has been solved.
Neglecting any of these steps conveys the impression that you were interested in the person only until the sale was made. This leaves the buyer feeling deceived and used, and creates ill will and negative advertising for your company. Sincerely proving you care about your customers leads to recommendations ... and repeat sales.
Studies show that the vast majority of dissatisfied customers will never tell you they’re dissatisfied. They simply leave quietly, then tell everyone they know not to do business with you. So when a customer does complain, don’t think of it as a nuisance—think of it as a golden opportunity to change that customer’s mind and retain his or her business.
Even the best product or service meets with complaints or problems now and then. Here’s how to handle them for positive results:
- Let customers vent their feelings. Encourage them to get their frustrations out in the open.
- Never argue with a customer.
- Never tell a customer “You do not have a problem.” Those are fighting words.
- Share your point of view as politely as you can.
- Take responsibility for the problem. Don’t make excuses. If an employee was sick or a third-party supplier let you down, that’s not the customer’s concern.
- Immediately take action to remedy the situation. Promising a solution then delaying it only makes matters worse.
- Empower your front-line employees to be flexible in resolving complaints. Give employees some leeway in deciding when to bend the rules. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, make sure they have you or another manager handle the situation.
- Imagine you’re the one with the complaint. How would you want the situation to be handled?