Retaining good customers has a positive bottom-line impact | Daily News
So, you want to start-up and develop a small business – Part 28

Retaining good customers has a positive bottom-line impact


In my working experience and research, I have also found that, not surprisingly, lot of big businesses in Sri Lanka don’t learn from their customer losses. In large companies. ambitious managers want to link their careers to successes; failures are usually examined for purposes of assigning blame rather than detecting and eradicating the systemic causes of poor performance.

The good news for you as the small-business owner, is that you don’t have to be concerned with bosses and organizational politics when addressing the problem of customer defections. After all, you’re the boss. However, it’s a natural human tendency to spend more time chasing and celebrating successes than investigating and learning from failures and losses.

Make a commitment to tracking the customers that you lose and asking why. Knowing that you’ve lost customers isn’t enough; you must find out why you lost them. Doing so can help keep you in business and help keep your business growing.

Some time ago, I used to patronise a small grade business called “Auto Wash n Clean.” The business, boasted that you could get your car washed and vacuumed including interior floor and seat covers with 20 minutes and be on your way. On one visit to the establishment, I pulled into the entrance and got out of my car. I was then ignored for the next ten minutes - and not because the business was too busy. The people who were checking in new customers moved at a snail’s pace, and one employee even spent over 12 minutes on a personal phone call. When it was my turn, the employee who checked him in was rude.

I left during the cleaning to do some shopping nearby rather than sit in the poorly ventilated, building. Upon my return, I had to wait another ten minutes because, although my car had finally been cleaned, the paperwork wasn’t done. The same employee who checked me in took another ten minutes to finish the paperwork and kept his unfriendly and surly attitude all the while.

That evening I made some enquiries and found out that a fuel station closer to my home has started offering cleaning, which were about 10 percent more costly than the other place. The attendant who checked me in at the service station was friendly and polite, and my car and paperwork were ready as promised. I didn’t mind the additional cost. The previous place lost a customer.

Recognizing and practicing customer service

Remember - you cannot expect employees to be perfect and that making mistakes won’t necessarily lead to an employee’s immediate firing. However, make it clear to them that you won’t tolerate employees who repeatedly drive good customers away from your business.

As a business you have products or services to sell. Sometimes it happens businesses get too focused on those products and services, giving short shrift to the accompanying customer service that customers expect.

For example, you surely recognize customer service in a company you do business with when its telephone operator (or at least its telephone system) connects you with your party quickly and efficiently. Its accountant politely answers a question you have about an invoice. Its delivery clerk quickly traces your order and tells you exactly when to expect it. Its salesperson gets back to you quickly with the quotes and delivery schedules you requested.

In each of these situations, the company is solving your problem or addressing your need in a manner that meets or exceeds your expectations, which is, after all, the definition of customer service.

Customer service = solving your customers’ problems or meeting their needs.

When you ask an employee for help in a business that you frequent, have you ever felt that his or her behaviour was essentially saying to you, “That’s not my department or responsibility. You have to call this number…”

It’s not good customer service. Ideally, the correct response to a customer question is, “Let me find the solution for you.” The solution may ultimately rest in the hands of another employee, another department, or even another business, but the employee has accepted responsibility for solving your problem.

Some larger companies have distinctly identified customer service departments - a person or group of people whose sole purpose is to solve customer problems. In such a company, all customer telephone calls are routed through to the customer service department. In smaller companies, however, many - perhaps even all - employees are involved in customer service.

In the example quoted above, the telephone operator, the accountant, the delivery clerk, and the salesperson are providing customer service. If you, the boss and Grand Master, get involved in solving a customer’s problem, you, too, are focused on customer service. The same is true for the janitor or the night watchman.

The challenge is for your employees to understand that they’re on the job to solve your customers’ problems. After all, they may believe (because this is the way their job descriptions read) that their role is simply to answer the telephone, keep the books, delivery products, or sell services. Although these functions accurately describe the employees’ assigned activities, they don’t define the employees’ assumed responsibilities.

You and your employees are on the job - just as your entire company exists - for one reason and one reason only: to solve your customers’ problems.

Smart business owners know that customer service (and the accompanying problem solving) begins before a sale is made, continues during the sale, and continues long after the sale is complete. Remember that customers aren’t just coming to your business for your products and services. The attentiveness you show toward your customers’ needs - before, during, and after the sale - that comes with what you sell is an integral part of the package. Treat your customers as you would a good friend.

The following sections break down the stages of customer service so that you can see what you and your employees need to do to keep your customers coming back.

Customer service before the sale

When a customer goes to buy a product or service, part of what can close the sale or blow the deal is the quality (or lack thereof) of the customer service before the moment the customer decides to buy. When a customer schedules an appointment, she’s buying not only the service provider’s expertise but also the “proper care and handling” before the service is provided. And when a potential customer enters your store for a product, she wants the store to be clean, well maintained, and conveniently arranged. That’s all part of the customer service experience.

Consider the last time you bought something, whether it was a car, a bag of groceries, a medical item, or a haircut. With each of these purchases, you interacted with the business provider before you committed to buy the product or service.

If you’re like most people, you probably have some bad memories about slick salespeople who accosted you the moment you walked onto a business place. The salesperson isn’t trying to solve your problem - figuring out which model to purchase. He’s trying to solve his problem - how to make a better commission to meet his next mortgage payment. Because of poor customer service at the point of sale, many people turn around, cheque books in hand, and take their business elsewhere.

Customer service during the sale

After a customer commits to buying a product or service, the customer service must continue. Never halt your efforts to satisfy customers. Continue to meet the customer’s service expectations, even if the sale is finalized. If you don’t, you may lose repeat business and the opportunity for referrals to other customers.

For example, after you decide to buy a product, you won’t be overjoyed if completing the transaction takes too long. Even though you may be happy with the selection of the product, the hassle in getting on your way may make you less glowing in your recommendation to others.

Customer service    after the sale

After a customer has purchased your company’s products or services, your relationship with that customer isn’t over. The customer may have follow-up questions that you need to answer or problems down the road with your products or services.

If you or your employees treat your customers as if they’re bothering you and you aren’t attentive to after-sales service, you may discourage customers from making more purchases and referring others to your business. In addition to being attentive to all your customers’ questions and concerns, be sure to solicit feedback (possibly through a formal survey) from your customers as to the quality of the customer service that your business offered them.

Personal touch

In the age of technology, you may be tempted to discard some of the personal touches that today’s customers still appreciate. Don’t do it. Although technology certainly answers many of your business’s needs, it can never replace the following personal touches in the eyes of customers:

For example, a handwritten note is always the best way to say “thank you.” As the owner, if you call and say “thank you” makes a positive impression.

Don’t waste one second trying to cover your tracks after mistakes are made. Come clean, fess up, and solve the problem. Provide personal customer service - not voicemail boxes that allow you to avoid dealing with problems. Approached correctly, mistakes can provide an opportunity to improve your business, impress your customers, and reward their loyalty.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years of experience in senior business management. Presently, he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and writer.)


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