Most of us work in highly competitive industries. Everyone is out there trying to innovate, implement and improve their products and services quicker than ours.
But what happens when the competition is offering something that is extremely similar to what we are offering or producing? What are we actually competing on? In this commodity-type environment most people think price is the main point of difference. Most forget how valuable good service can be.
1. Solving problems before they happen
Some industries and companies understand that the value they offer their clients is in solving problems. It may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to solve these problems and therefore cut off an opportunity for future revenue, but service is about building relationships over time.
Often it can be helpful to provide clear explanations of why and how. In professional services, there is sometimes too much rush to get you to sign something without adequate explanation and relationship building.
The world of IT provides many opportunities for things to go wrong. An IT manager, or contractor, should always explain why certain protocols are in place. If systems are crashing and viruses are infiltrating computers across the organisation, it’s too late. These are dangers that should be addressed before they happen
2. Manage expectations through transparency
The worst possible result for service is to have a customer or client feel disappointed. The reason people feel disappointed is because they expect something far superior to what they receive. Be extremely thorough in explaining to the client what they can expect, what time frame you are offering, what price, and what level of contact. Keep the communication going ESPECIALLY when there are hold-ups or problems. A disappointed customer will not return, and they may complain about your company on social media and to their friends and family.
There is no worse conversation in business than telling someone they should not be upset because they got exactly what they agreed to. Often this requires pointing to some small print, or a paragraph in a document that they failed to read or comprehend. You are within your rights to tell them that they were warned and informed, but at the end of the day you have a frustrated client that feels short changed and will advertise how bad you are.
3. Surprise them
When a client gets exactly what they expect, because you have been transparent, managed expectations and delivered exactly as agreed, then you have a satisfied client. The only problem with satisfied customers is that they don’t tell anyone about their experience. If you surprise a customer – give them something positive that is completely unexpected – they will not only return in the future but also tell everyone about it. When you make a customer feel amazing it equates to great service. I had great service with EUROPCAR on the weekend returning a car – so I am saying that here.
If you provide professional services then you will completely understand how important responsiveness is. That is, how quickly you respond to questions, queries, emails and calls. In some instances, unless your response is instant you will be disappointing customers. Social media and websites offer new ways of responding to questions and complaints quickly.
Looking at it from the customer’s point of view – if they are asking a question they are in a position of doubt. Doubt is an intensely uncomfortable feeling, and if you combine doubt with any sort of deadline it becomes intensely stressful for that customer. So if you, as someone offering a level of service, can answer a query then you must do it as quickly as possible to ease this discomfort. Make answers easy to find.
Being reliable is a trait that is far less common than it should. Reliability is as simple as doing what you say you will do, yet we see time and time again people that make promises to appease us (achieving the responsiveness goal) but fail to deliver on that promise. Customers hate this! Honesty is a much better approach. If you don’t think the customer is going to like the true answer then you have a different problem. Your integrity, your reputation as an individual and an organisation hinges on your ability to be reliable.
One of the main roadblocks to reliability is disorganisation. Someone who makes a promise to a customer usually believes that they are going to fulfil that promise. It gets problematic when other things crowd in on that person’s schedule, or if the promise takes more time to deliver on than expected. You may have expected the follow-up on your customer’s order would only take five minutes, but instead you have to make calls, wait for responses and dig a lot deeper. This means your promise to have an answer to your customer by the end of the day is broken. It’s tough – we want to give a high level of service but a lot of things are out of our control.
Using the order follow-up example, it is much better to say that you will call the customer by the end of the day with an update. At worst you will say that you have called the transport company, the warehouse and the order fulfilment departments and are waiting for a response. At least the client isn’t left in the dark.
6. Understand what your customers want
In the healthcare world, in many business relationships, people want knowledge AND care … a warm and friendly exchange that builds trust. The best medical care and professional expertise is usually the most important element, but people want to be able to trust their professional experts – and interpersonal skills provide so much of this positive relationship.
By knowing what it is that really keeps your customers coming back then you can put a lot of focused effort into what they will most appreciate. It might be speed of service or it might be a human touch, but either way committing properly to what is most valued will give your customers great service in their collective mind.
Service seems to be the one thing that we can all talk about endlessly. Bad service makes us furious, it makes us want to vent to all of our friends in person and on social media. Great service can make our whole day significantly better. As a service provider, the most important thing you can do is to take a lot of time to deliver on the human experience of the people that your company serves and interacts with.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.