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Upping your customer service performance

By Marc L. Goldberg

SCORE certified mentor

Question: What tips can you share to up our customer service game?

Answer: Dale Carnegie, famed author of 'How to Win Friends and Influence People,' used his experience as a sales rep to teach us how to do more than satisfy customers. Customers who are merely satisfied are just as likely to leave you for a competitor as stay with you as a customer. What you and your team need to do is create a customer experience that excites, ignites fervor and makes them evangelists for your brand. Let’s take a lesson from Carnegie to make behavior changes among your team to create a real difference.

Be genuinely interested in other people: One of the axioms we borrow from principles of networking is to be interested in other people so the focus moves away from you to them. Authenticity is critical for customers to take you seriously. Being customer focused is one thing, but to show real interest in them creates an environment of sincerity that makes the experience more than transactional. When you talk in terms of the customer’s interest, they allow you to take the dialogue further than if you focus on your own needs — selling them something. When you make the customer feel important, they open the door for you to explore their needs more fully and embrace customer satisfaction as a brand value.

Effective, clear communication with customers must include positivity. This includes both verbal and nonverbal messaging; 55-60% of all communication is nonverbal. Just the way you position yourself and gesture reveal how you feel about the interaction. The more positive you are, the more the customer will feel great about the experience. If conversations move negative, then repositioning it using positive language takes your interaction to the next level.

Smile: When you smile, you are showing you are genuine, open and welcoming. It is the most important nonverbal communication you can display, since it is a door opener to start a conversation and possibly a relationship. And it doesn’t cost anything. When welcoming a visitor to your retail establishment, making eye contact as soon as possible and smiling says to this potential customer, “We’re glad you are here.”

Use their name: “Hi, my name is Joan, and yours is?” That is the door opener to take the engagement to the next level. There is nothing a customer likes to hear more than their name being used in the buying experience. If you are challenged with remembering names, then find a way to write it down so you can use it again in the conversation. Carry a note card with you to take notes to help you remember. Using one’s name personalizes the experience. The more personalized you can make the buying experience, the more engaged the buyer becomes.

Be a good listener: 70% of communication is listening, not talking. If you are a good listener, you will actually hear and therefore potentially understand what your customer wants, needs or desires. If you listen first, then talk, you will be able to focus your response on what they want to talk about, not your product pitch. Stephen Covey, in '7 Habits of Highly Effective People,' instructs us to listen with the intent to understand, not just reply. It is tough to listen when you are trying to sell something by doing all the talking, but those sellers who discipline themselves to become great listeners sell more, since they are more tuned into the customer.

See TIPS, C3

From Page C1

Customer issues become opportunities if you let them: The moment customers decide to buy and pay for their merchandise is just the beginning of the transformational sale. After-purchase actions are potentially more important, especially if there is a problem. Once the customer makes you aware of the issue, it is important to fully understand the situation. Listen without judgment, don’t argue, and if you are wrong, readily admit it. However, if you are not wrong, finding a way to satisfy their issue is key.

When you attempt to understand the issue fully, and get the customer into a dialogue about potential solutions, you are on the way to customer satisfaction. And if you can get the customer to think the solution is their idea, not yours, they are likely to be more accepting of it. Be sure you both are in agreement with the solution before ending the dialogue. When you reassure the customer by repeating the solution, you are showing you care about getting it right.

Remember to say 'thank you': These are the two most important words in customer service. Showing appreciation goes miles in making the customer feel special. Even if they are a longtime customer, thanking them for doing business with you reinforces their importance to you. It can be verbal, or even better in today’s isolated environment, sending them a handwritten note of “thanks” shows you are not taking their business for granted. You also might use the demonstration of appreciation to make it easier for them to do business with you in the future. That gesture doesn’t have to be a discount on future commitments — it might be a “tip sheet” to help them.

Make customer service a “team” event:

Everyone in your employ is a customer service representative. Every interaction with a customer leaves an impression that creates the “loyalty index” in the mind of a buyer. If they are welcomed to your establishment, directed to a possible solution to their buying needs, but are dealt with in an off-hand manner at checkout, they leave with a negative impression of how you value customers.

The person who unloads trucks on your loading dock is as important as the person who answers your phone. Gregory Ciotti advises that if you take a whole company approach in which everyone sees it part of their job to ensure that every customer becomes a “fanatic” of the company’s brand, your chances of successful customer satisfaction are multiplied. What you want, advises Peter Shankman in 'Zombie Loyalists,' is to generate a company culture that creates rabid fans who buy more, tell others about you and become an extension of your sales function.

At the end of the day, customers have many options, but they buy from those who satisfy them. Make upping your customer service performance a key performance indicator for 2021.

Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, certified mentor. Sources: 'How to Win Friends and Influence People,' Dale Carnegie; '16 Tips for Outstanding Customer Service,' Gregory Ciotti; 'Zombie Loyalists,' Peter Shankman. For free and confidential mentoring to up your customer service game, contact SCORE Cape Cod and the Islands at capecod. score.org, capecodscore@verizon.net, or 508-775-4884. We go where you are!

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