If you are running a service-based business, you typically don’t have to worry about product returns, but you still need to have customer service at the top of your priority list.
For a service-based business the “sale” is the service performed, which means making sure the service provided is to the customer’s liking. More and more service businesses are finding it harder to be everything to everyone, and as a result are trying to specialize in pleasing customers in niche markets. Knowing what your niche customers want and making sure your staff is well trained to provide the services offered are the first steps toward successfully meeting customer expectations.
According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers “Trendsetter Barometer,” four-fifths of America’s fastest growing companies have initiated important new programs aimed at customer expansion, customer retention, and customer profitability. A significant percentage of these are service-based businesses.
Service providers need to be well equipped with answers. For example, the multitude of vendors selling airline tickets and the frequent lack of communication leaves ground employees at a loss when trying to answer consumer questions. It is your responsibility to arm your employees with knowledge so they can provide clear, helpful answers.
If you purchase a computer and it doesn’t work properly, you can take it back to the store and explain which functions are not working. But if you see a therapist and you do not feel that he or she has been helpful, how do you quantify what “helpful means? The service industry requires a more precise match between the customer’s definition of a problem and the service provider’s solution. With that in mind, a chiropractor, for example, needs to spend that much more time explaining why he or she believes such a treatment will benefit the patient. Clarification and explanation, therefore, play an integral part in the communication process between service providers and clients or patients because there is typically no instruction manual.
When your new computer doesn’t work, you are dealing with a malfunctioning machine. When someone performing a service does’’t do an adequate job, what’s really at issue is the individual’s skills or abilities. A bad haircut doesn’t happen because the scissors don’t work properly. Service providers need to separate themselves from their work to address concerns properly and fairly. Of course, this is not easy because people’s egos can be at stake. While the customer may certainly be wrong, in business we all know that the customer is supposed to always be right. In cases like these, it can be helpful to step back from the situation or have someone else, such as a manager, deal with complaints and problems. By empowering someone to oversee such complaints and concerns, you can distance the service provider from the client and provide more objective solutions.
The key to good customer service, in any industry, is not winning a battle but winning the war, especially in a competitive business environment.
For a service provider, typically what is at stake when it comes to customer relations is time spent for services provided. Therefore, service providers need to determine how much time they can afford in the course of a month or year to expend for the sake of maintaining ongoing relationships. After all, service-oriented business (more than any industry) must follow the 80-20 business principle, whereby 80 percent of their business must come from return customers. Is one free haircut or massage worth maintaining a good relationship with a customer who may return on a monthly basis for years to come? The time invested to pacify a disgruntled customer and rebuild the business/client relationship can be very valuable. A free touch-up while detailing a car can bring the car owner back for years to come.
Again, it’s all a matter of determining in advance how much time you will invest in customer relationships. Remember, it costs five times as much to bring in one new customer as it takes to keep an existing one happy.