Question: I own a service business with 20 people in the field. I’ve been looking at last year’s sales figures, and I am happy that we grew 15%, but I can’t help but wonder why that number was not bigger. We have been experimenting with some new marketing campaigns, and are getting good results, however, looking at my financial reports I see that our customer loyalty and repeat business are low. We are gaining a lot of new customers, but customer attrition makes actual growth slow going. How can we keep customers so happy that all of their business stays with our company, and I can therefore get more value from my marketing dollars?
Answer: Good for you for looking beyond the Profit and Loss to lead your business in the right direction! Getting new customers can be an expensive process, and the more you can sell to the same loyal customers, the more profits it means for your company. I also owned a service business with 25 employees many years ago, so I understand how tricky it can be keeping clients happy with nothing to sell but “service” delivered by 25 different personalities.
Pinpointing what’s prompting customers to try other services can be difficult, as it could be one of a hundred things. There is, however, one secret weapon that companies with excellent service hold, and that is to develop a Service Strategy that is implemented at every level of your company, and demonstrates that your company is unique, satisfying and worth talking about. I recently wrote an article for a trade publication on this subject, that you might find useful in getting to your answer. Although it may not fit your industry exactly, it speaks right to the heart of how to deliver exceptional service, especially in the toughest of industries, where pleasing customers can be the most challenging.
Getting to the Heart of Outstanding Service
By Renée O’Brien, Sharpchip Consulting
Do people do back flips over the service that they receive at your company? Is the experience that your clients receive so extraordinary that they can’t help but tell others about it? If one of your customers was telling another about your company, what would they say? These are the burning questions that keep wise CEO’s and executives up at night, because it’s a competitive world, and if they want to lead their business to victory, they know that there has to be something special about their business to give them the edge.
So what advice do I give on how to improve your service, increase customer loyalty, and make your service replicable no matter who is providing the service? Surprisingly, its not to make your product or service perfect 100% of the time, since that’s an impossible endeavor. We have to go a bit deeper then that and start with your philosophy about service, and how can your company not just be good, but remarkable from the inside out.
My education on service began long before I owned my own 25 employee service business. In one of my first jobs I worked in a small shoe store, where on my first day my manager presented me with some customer service training.
Always greet the customer with “how can I help you?’… if the customer wants to return an item, and they have a receipt and its within 30 days then smile and say “no problem”…. And, if the customer asks for a size in black pumps, bring them out the black pumps, and two other choices.
That was it. I was off and running with my customer services skills. Or, was I? One problem that I encountered was that although I was using my skills, the customer was not always satisfied. The policies didn’t really cover everything. And I don’t believe that customers felt that there was anything special or remarkable about their experience.
Later, I went to work for a leading department store and had a completely different customer service training. First off, every employee at that time, whether you were a seasonal worker hired to cover one sale, or a bookkeeper in the office, you had to attend their 2 day training that covered the history of the company, their service strategy, and basic transaction procedures. There was really one main rule of customer service at the store, and that was to “satisfy the customer” over anything else. And they really meant it! I was told that although I worked in kids shoes, if a customer wanted help choosing a pair of pants, then I should take her to any department in the store that she wanted and help her find what she needed. I was also told “I don’t care if a customer comes in with a returned item with a competitor’s tag hanging off it…if they say that it came from our store, then you take the item back.” Did I hear that correctly? What about the 30 days with a receipt business? Of course they had security measures invisible to the customers and myself to ensure that the policy was not abused, but that was no concern of mine. As far as the people on the front line were concerned, we were to only “satisfy the customer”. The result…extremely remarkable service, that the best business gurus have been studying since its inception.
The service training that I had at the department store was so impactful that it has stuck with me and influenced my approaches to service ever since. A few years later I worked on customer relationship management systems for a corporate consulting firm, and I was constantly focused on the concept of your goal is to “satisfy the customer”, and its your real business goal to figure out what that really means. Processes, methods & procedure, and systems mean nothing if they do not help you actually “satisfy the customer”.
So, when I started a cleaning business years later I knew that some how I needed to incorporate my thoughts on service…except this was a whole different ball game. I was not planning to sell products and have some good service to go along with it…my service (and my company’s service) was my product! Yikes. How was I going to ensure that every customer received the same service experience from every employee? And, the answer is SERVICE STRATEGY.
At the time, I turned to a book called “Service America” by Ron Zemke and Karl Albrecht. From the book and my prior experiences I outlined a service strategy for my business that simply stated a basic concept of service that was to be visible in every employee, every process and every client interaction. Of course, our number one rule for the company was to “satisfy the customer”, and the service strategy was “to provide reliable, consistent, affordable, and complete service every time”.
Every business process from answering customer calls, to billing, to method & procedure, to employee-client relationships were constantly evaluated to see that they screamed the 4 criteria in our service strategy. So, we did not provide every tile cleaned with a toothbrush sort of service because it would not fit with our “affordable” criteria. We worked by the job instead of hourly, because it fit with our “complete” criteria. And when we absolutely had no choice but to move a client from his/her scheduled time we extended a “sorry for the inconvenience” gift certificate, so that we could meet with our “reliable” criteria. So, by design we were not the most detailed, do everything kind of service in town. We were exactly what our service strategy described, and customers that wanted that gravitated to us and had a remarkable experience.
It’s many years later now, so you may be wondering if I recommend that same service strategy to my clients in the cleaning business now? Well, No. Lots of time has passed and the market has changed. The very nature of designing remarkable service is that it must be unique, and outside the box thinking about what your clients want. When I started my cleaning business the market was young and residential cleaning was just beginning to switch from people’s perception of a luxury item, to be an item that every day people were beginning to use. What it took to be remarkable then, is now the norm, and I would recommend persons in that industry now dig deep, and again break the mold and design a service strategy that sets them apart from their competition.
So, ask yourself, what do your customers REALLY want? Do Starbucks’ customers want a cup of coffee, or is it more then that? If it’s just coffee then how were they able to create a whole generation of customers that will pay $3.00 for a coffee, that used to be 25 cents with free refills? Starbucks knew that a customer asking for a cup of coffee really wanted a whole experience…even if that’s not what they said they wanted.
Now its time for you to figure out what your clients really want, and come up with a service strategy that will leave your customers with a remarkable, worth mentioning experience. Here are some questions and factoids to help spur some ideas for your service strategy.
• A Miami based pest control agency, Burger Bug Killers, promises to eliminate bugs entirely with its service guarantee, and if they fail, its free. Now, how can they do that? Most pest control agencies promise to reduce pests to an acceptable level. BBK thought bigger and realized what their clients really wanted was a bug free house. And the result according to the authors of “Service Breakthroughs” is that they can charge up to six times what some of their competition does, and they hold a disproportionate share of the market in their service area. Can you think out of the box like that about your business?
• One of my favorite examples of a remarkable service is an airport parking lot business in Seattle. Airport parking seems straight forward, and pretty difficult to make unique. Their approach, however, goes far deeper then offering secure parking at an affordable price, and really gets to the heart of what busy travelers really want. Convenience! The results are shuttles that pick you up in a bat of an eye, friendly drivers that greet you with a free bottle of water and newspaper, and upon your return, drop you off exactly at your car door. Their pricing can be as much as 100% over some of their competition, but I gladly pay it every time for the sanity of knowing that no matter how disorganized I may be that day, parking and getting to the airport is one thing that I don’t have to think about.
• A service strategy is a statement that includes 3-4 criteria that describe how your service will be unique. Every person, process and interaction in your business should be designed to demonstrate your service strategy. Successful service strategies target a specific group of people, and provide total solutions for their pain points.
• Old dogs need to learn new tricks. Even seasoned business veterans should look at their service strategy and ask if it could be better. Look at Best Buy, for example; they thought out of the box when they go rid of commission sales. With that one change their business jumped from $250 million, to $23 billion. Service strategy matters.
• Want to hear more thoughts on engineering the best service business? For more tips, strategies, and information from service gurus go to my web site and download my special report on “50 Ways to Boost Revenues: A Small Business Guide to Building an Army of Repeat, Loyal Customers in a Competitive Market”.