Man, do we hate it when we are serviced poorly. Too slow, too quick, too much, not enough; if our service isn’t just perfect, your Bar Babes get downright cranky. We are, of course, talking about the service we receive as customers of a variety of businesses and services. Whether your business is run in a brick building or on a server in someone’s basement, great customer service is a necessary ingredient for repeat business and growth. Just like you’d drop a guy who didn’t deliver on a promise to call, your clients will drop you for similar broken promises. Simply put, good customer service is good business. In the "old days" -- pre-Internet revolution -- customer service meant visiting the counter in an obscure corner of the top floor of your favorite department store during regular business hours, calling a toll-free number between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, or writing a letter and mailing it off to the corporate office with (gasp!) a postage stamp. Within the past few years, however, customer service options have grown quicker than an adolescent boy with a porno mag. Companies have 24/7 customer service hours through call centers or Web sites. They can instantly provide customers with billing statements, answers to Frequently Asked Questions, or product usage tips any time of night or day. Consumers can also use email to contact companies with questions, complaints, or kudos faster than they can get a call through to a 900 number. Better yet, some companies offer live, on-line chat as the most efficient way to quickly resolve issues. However, just because your company is using the latest technology doesn’t necessarily mean your customers are properly serviced. As with all things, you still need to know how to use your tools properly to provide complete satisfaction. Customer service needs to be integrated into your operations, no matter what your business is. The types of service options that will work best for your customers depend on your industry and how customers interact with you. KISS, KISS With all of the service bells, whistles, and gadgets available, companies can definitely take a page out of the KISS book and Keep It Simple, Stupid. A few things to make your customers want to kiss you:
Make it easy for customers to contact you. If a customer gets lost in automated phone system hell or has to choose from 20 different departmental email options on your Web site, you’re making things too complicated for your customers.
Be sure that it’s easy to access the "help," "contact us," and "customer service" sections of your Web site. Consider adding these links to the header, navigational system, or footer of the site, so they are always in the same place and accessible from every page. These links should never be more than one click away for complete KISSability.
Regularly monitor your site, server logs, and other data to be sure that all forms, scripts, and pages are working properly. Broken tools don’t put anyone in the mood.
If you use Contact Us forms, be sure to provide an alternative way for folks to reach you, such as a regular, old general email account. If there is a problem with your site’s forms, customers still should be able to reach you easily.
Staff it Up, and I’ll Take It In July 2002, BURST! Research published a survey indicating that 25 percent of frequent Internet users and 14.6 percent of non-Internet users during last year’s holiday season plan to go on line more during the 2002 holiday. If your business is affected by the annual holiday rush or any other seasonal cycle, be sure to beef up your staff for peak periods. Keeping your service and response times up to par year-round keeps your customers happy. Businesses want to capture as many sales as possible -- especially during peak times -- and certainly don’t want to lose a sale to a competitor who is better able to handle busy seasons. If You Build It, F@#$%% Build It Right! While shopping on line recently with her 10-year-old daughter at Limited Too, Kristin encountered a shopping system so complicated and poorly structured that we finally gave up and faxed in our order in complete and total annoyance. Our main frustration was that the system only allows you to select the "softball" ringer tee in size XXS, even though the text on the page (and in the catalog) says that they carry it in a range spanning XXS to XXXL. Not that we object to XXS clothes, but we want to choose exactly how we display our goods. Your business should, too. The Same Thing is a Good Thing A Jupiter Media Metrix study reported that "70 percent of on-line buyers said they would spend less money at the 'brick' store if they suffered poor customer service at the merchant’s Web site." (Hear that, Limited Too?) If your company has both an on- and off-line presence, be consistent with your customer service policies, and use the fact that you’re in both places to your advantage! Although the company misses the mark with an awkward navigation system and limiting their on-line product availability (for example, there are virtually no accessories available for purchase from the site -- no backpacks, handbags, shoestrings), Payless ShoeSource integrates their on- and off-line shopping experience well. Customers can opt for home delivery or can pick up their purchase at no additional charge from one of the company's 4600 stores nationwide. Don’t drive all over town looking for size 3 pink ballet shoes; just hit the Web site and have them delivered! Best yet, if the shoe doesn’t fit or if you change your mind, just return your order to any store near you for a full refund. Don’t Break our Hearts (or Your Promises) In one of our all-time favorite movies, "Tommy Boy," Chris Farley’s character struggles throughout the film to repeat a snappy product guarantee quote that his Dad used to always use: "You can take a good look at a T-bone by sticking your head up a bull's ass, but wouldn't you rather take the butcher's word for it?" Whether you sell quality t-bones or books on cows, be sure you keep any promise you make to your customers. The Web site of self-cleaning litter box manufacturer LitterMaid specifically lists a 30-day, unconditional, money-back guarantee as well as a one-year warranty for their products. Kansas City-based freelance marketing consultant Celeste Lindell says, "With four cats, I finally broke down and spent the money on a LitterMaid self-cleaning litter box. After several months of use, the system suddenly quit raking the litter, so I sent an email from their Web site asking what I should do. They promptly emailed back a question about the model of the box and the code number in the battery compartment. With this additional information, they responded with an immediate offer to replace the box (which is worth about $100). Within just a few days, a brand new litter box arrived!" Now we’d use this sweetheart of a company anytime! Bottom line: Treat your customers like you’d treat your best girl. Don’t lie to her or give her unpleasant surprises. Communicate just enough (not too much, but not too little), but always make it easy for her to get in touch with you, and listen when she does. Don’t sell her something that you can’t back up. Service her properly, and she’ll reward you with loyalty for many years to come.