“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What we now refer to as the Golden Rule summarizes one of the most important maxims of good business practice and philosophy. Treat your customers the same way you would want to be treated if you were their customer.
One of the biggest advantages of a small business owner is the opportunity to develop mutually beneficial relationships with your customers. The customer enjoys personal service and the owner gets a returning customer. Knowing basic information about your customers is the key to providing the best-personalized service. This includes their full name, family members, community involvement, and their interests and hobbies. This is data gathering in its purest form and will enable you to make every customer feel special.
With all the inexpensive tools available today to stay in touch with customers, there’s a tendency to overdo it. Smothering customers with emails and other electronic communications will turn them off. You can avoid being a nuisance by putting yourself in the customer’s place and deciding how often you’d like to be on the receiving end of your bulletins. You want to be proactive, not pushy, while keeping your business on their radar.
Use a variety of techniques to reach out to customers. While social media is indispensable, there’s still nothing like the personal touch of a telephone call or handwritten note to impress a customer. Keep track of significant family milestones such as births and graduations, and acknowledge them with a small token of your gratitude for their loyalty. It’s definitely worth the few minutes of time and expense to do this routinely. Also create online tools for your customers to rate your products, ordering process, website navigation and overall customer service.
Measurements & Metrics
It’s easy to tell when you have a satisfied customer. They’ll continue to buy your products without shopping around and they’ll refer other customers through personal recommendations. There are many ways to assess how your customers perceive your business, but it helps to focus on crucial factors such as loyalty, apparent quality and personal satisfaction.
For a small business, tracking performance metrics may seem like an unnecessary burden on your valuable time and energy. The goal should be to track only those metrics that you believe are important to your specific business and the way you run it. It helps to have a system in place that shows you if data is trending in a positive or negative direction. If you don’t have the resources necessary for a formal system, an informal system based on talking to customers and gathering comments via your website will provide vital feedback.
Here are some metrics to consider using. You can add to or subtract from this list depending on the size and scope of your business.
Overall satisfaction – In a global sense, how well does your company perform its mission? You want “big picture” feedback from both actual customers and those who shopped but didn’t buy.
Expected vs. actual performance – New customers will likely have a favorable perception of your company; otherwise they wouldn’t consider buying from you. You want to know if your company lived up to their expectations, and if not, why not.
Actual vs. ideal performance – Since no two customers are alike, what constitutes ideal performance will vary widely. You want to know what the best possible performance would be in all aspects of their buying experience. This is open-ended and assumes that time and money are not constraints. While it may never be possible to completely meet these expectations, you may be able to meet some of them.
Quality – Are customers satisfied with the quality of your products or services?
Returning customer – Is a customer likely to make at least one repeat purchase? What are you doing that causes them to say yes or no?
Customer solution – Are customers finding what they’re looking for with minimal or no interaction, and does it solve their needs?
Contact volume – Track and rank the methods customers use to contact you and prioritize your support accordingly. This is increasingly done online although many customers still prefer to do business by telephone. Determine how the customer found you to help track the effectiveness of your advertising.
Recommend to others – This is absolutely critical because everything you do boils down to a basic fact. It’s very difficult to sustain and grow a business without good word-of-mouth advertising. If former customers are bad-mouthing your business, that only compounds the problem. You want your customers to be willing to put their personal reputations on the line and recommend you with complete trust and without reservation. Consider using the Net Promoter Score as a means of measuring the willingness of customers to recommend your products or services.
Reaction times – How long it takes for you to respond to customers and resolve problems is extremely important. This includes emails, telephone calls and website transactions. Make it a goal to do it faster than your competitors, but it’s not only about speed. Accuracy, completeness and the ability to resolve issues with one interaction are equally important.
It’s hard to find a merchant website that doesn’t feature some form of feedback system. Many offer online surveys that promise a chance for a reward in exchange for filling out their form. Companies take this very seriously, and so should you.
Social media, whether you like it or not, now plays a pivotal role in how many consumers do their shopping. Whether it’s searching for products and prices, or reading the comments of actual buyers, your potential customers have a myriad of ways to do their homework before they do business with you. It’s vitally important to understand what will keep them coming back.
Don’t fret if it seems like ages since you’ve seen some of your regular customers. While some people shop in discernible patterns with predictable repetition, others don’t. All of them are valuable sources of information you can use to enhance your reputation for excellent customer service.