• INCDEC 16, 2013

    Last week I purchased my very first MacBook Pro. I'll confess that I drilled myself over and over again on the reasons why I would choose to spend a lot more money on my computer needs than I ever have before. What makes Apple product so darn special anyway? I marched into the local Apple store with a stubborn, "they need to prove it to me" attitude.

    It didn't last long. Spending an hour in that store was like going to Disneyland. No pressure, tons of fun and friendly attitude, abundant knowledge and expertise, and flow and efficiency that seemed almost magical. And their follow-up procedures certainly haven't fallen short either.

    This refreshing customer service experience has created a new threshold. And it should create new standards for any business owner who hopes to compete for the consumer's precious dollar.

    The problem is that many entrepreneurs believe that their company's customer service is exceptional when it really isn't. In fact, 80 percent of businesses believe they deliver "superior" customer service, while only 8 percent of customers believe they have experienced superior service from those same businesses.

    So how do you offer their own version of a Disneyland experience to their consumers? "Delight the customer, engage with them--even in a simple transaction, and they will leave with a smile, and more importantly, come back, over and over again," says marketing expert and author Rachel Honig. Recently, Honig and customer service and marketing guru, Peter Shankman co-founded the customer service consultancy, Shankman/Honig. With more than 40 years of combined experience in marketing and customer service, both maintain that it costs less to keep a customer happy than to acquire a new one. What's even more interesting is that it costs even less to save an unhappy customer than to acquire a new one. You can learn more about that in Shankman's most recent book, "Nice Companies Finish First."

    Have you created a customer service culture that keeps your customers coming back? This holiday season is the perfect time to shine. Try these 10 tips straight from Shankman and Honig to bolster your customer service.

    1. Breathe.

    We know you're working round the clock and with a shortened holiday season due to a late Thanksgiving. The stress is on, but take a deep breath and recapture your own energy. Take a breath before answering each email or getting on the phone with a customer.

    2. Train all temporary support in your policy.

    If items will not be returnable or exchanged only for store credit make sure the temps you've hired know this. Wrong information will alienate both new and loyal customers come January.

    3. Employ loyalty discounts.

    Offer a January discount with December purchases. Something for Grandma now and for themselves next month--that way you get them back online or in the store in January while rewarding them for loyalty now.

    4. Add something extra to delight your customers.

    Throw a candy cane or two in their packages, or perhaps some screen wipes--something they will be sure to enjoy and use!

    5. Think about next year. 

    Customers love recurring gifts. It starts a welcome tradition and also makes annual buying easier. What can you offer them to create both that nostalgia and ease in holiday shopping? China? A train set? A new Marlon Brando film for Dad's collection? If you can make them look good, and ease their shopping burden you will be an invaluable resource all year long. Merchandise your store with that in mind. You can also create a database of those who bought those items and reach out next November.

    6. Just say hello.

    As a service business, we usually answer the calls from our clients. Pick up the phone this time and dial five clients each day, just to say hello. Wish your clients a happy New Year without trying to sell them a thing.

    7. Create a client satisfaction survey.

    This is the time of year when your clients may consider a change. Create a thoughtful survey and ask them how you're doing. And listen to their answers carefully.

    8. Look at how you are treating your own staff.

    Is anyone due for a promotion or a raise? Were bonuses sufficiently generous? A happy staff leads to a happy clientele. Less turnover also leads to greater profitability.

    9. Do some New Year planning.

    Reach out to your clients to ask what they want from you in terms of service in the coming year. They might want e-bills, or more itemization. An easy fix could lead to increased satisfaction.

    10. Look at your social channels.

    Service firms often overlook their social channels where clients may be leaving comments, both positive and negative. Make sure you have a strategy for not only monitoring these channels but replying as well.

    And most importantly, take care of yourself. "If you're tired or stressed, you'll be in no position, physically or emotionally, to help your clients or customers," says Shankman. "Eat well this month, and get to the gym, or just leave for 10 minutes every few hours to walk the parking lot and get fresh air."