As the wind of economic cycles blows
hard, some businesses try to contain costs
by cutting corners on customer service. This
is exactly the wrong thing to do, because
service matters now more than ever. Here’s
A. When people buy during
an economic downturn they are extremely
conscious of the hard-earned money that they
spend. Customers want more attention, more
appreciation and more recognition when
making their purchases with you, not less.
B. Customers want to be
sure they get maximum value for the money
they spend. They want assistance, education,
training, installation, modifications and
support. The basic product may remain the
same, but they want more service.
C. Customers want firmer
guarantees that their purchase was the right
thing to do. In good times, a single bad
purchase can be quickly overlooked or
forgotten, but in tough times, every
expenditure is scrutinized. Provide the
assurance your customers seek with generous
service guarantees, regular follow-up and
speedy follow-through on all queries and
D. In difficult economic
times, people spend less time traveling and
‘wining and dining’, and more time carefully
shopping for each and every purchase. Giving
great service enhances the customer’s
shopping experience and boosts your own
When times are good, people move fast and
sometimes don’t notice your efforts. In
tougher times, people move more cautiously
and notice every extra effort you make.
E. When money is tight,
many people experience a sense of lower
self-esteem. When they get good service from
your business, it boosts their self-image.
And when they feel good about themselves,
they feel good about you. And when they feel
good about you, they buy.
F. In tough times, people
talk more with each other about saving money
and getting good value. Positive
word-of-mouth is a powerful force at any
time. In difficult times, even more ears
will be listening. Be sure the words spoken
about your business are good ones!
The Secrets of
Giving good service in
tough times makes good business sense. But
how do you actually achieve it? Here are
eight proven principles you can use. I call
them The Secrets of Superior Service.
Understand how your
customers’ expectations are rising and
changing over time. What was good enough
last year may not be good enough now.
Use customer surveys, interviews and
focus groups to understand what your
customers really want, what they value
and what they believe they are getting
(or not getting) from your business.
Use quality service
to differentiate your business from your
competition. Your products may be
reliable and up-to-date – but your
competitors’ goods are, too. Your
delivery systems may be fast and
user-friendly, but so are your
You can make a more lasting difference
by providing personalized, responsive
and extra-mile service that stands out
in a unique way your customers will
appreciate – and remember.
Set and achieve high
service standards. You can go beyond
basic and expected levels of service to
provide your customers with desired and
even surprising service interactions.
Determine the standard for service in
your industry, and then find a way to go
beyond it. Give more choice than ‘the
usual’, be more flexible than ‘normal’,
be faster than ‘the average’, and extend
a better warranty than all the others.
Your customers will notice your higher
standards. But eventually those
standards will be copied by your
competitors, too. So don’t slow down.
Keep stepping up!
Learn to manage your
customers’ expectations. You can’t
always give customers everything their
hearts desire. Sometimes you need to
bring their expectations into line with
what you know you can deliver.
The best way to do this is by first
building a reputation for making and
keeping clear promises. Once you have
established a base of trust and good
reputation, you only need to ask your
customers for their patience in the rare
instances when you cannot meet their
first requests. Nine times out of ten
they will extend the understanding and
the leeway that you need.
The second way to manage customers’
expectations is to ‘under promise, then
over deliver’. Here’s an example: you
know your customer wants something done
fast. You know it will take an hour to
complete. Don’t tell your customer it
will take an hour. Instead, let them
know you will rush on their behalf, but
promise a 90-minute timeframe.
Then, when you finish in just one hour
(as you knew you would all along), your
customer will be delighted to find that
you finished the job ‘so quickly’.
That’s ‘under promise, then over
Bounce back with
effective service recovery. Sometimes
things do go wrong. When it happens to
your customers, do everything you can to
set things right. Fix the problem and
show sincere concern for any discomfort,
frustration or inconvenience. Then do a
little bit more by giving your customer
something positive to remember – a token
of goodwill, a gift of appreciation, a
discount on future orders, an upgrade to
a higher class of product.
This is not the time to assign blame for
what went wrong or to calculate the
costs of repair. Restoring customer
goodwill is worth the price in positive
word-of-mouth and new business.
complaining customers. Customers with
complaints can be your best allies in
building and improving your business.
They point out where your system is
faulty or your procedures are weak and
problematic. They show where your
products or services are below
expectations. They point out areas where
your competitors are getting ahead or
where your staff is falling behind.
These are the same insights and
conclusions companies pay consultants to
provide. But a complainer gives them to
And remember, for every person who
complains, there are many more who don’t
bother to tell you. The others just take
their business elsewhere...and speak
badly about you. At least the complainer
gives you a chance to reply and set
responsibility. In many organizations,
people are quick to blame others for
problems or difficulties at work:
managers blame staff, staff blame
managers, Engineering blames Sales,
Sales blames Marketing and everyone
blames Finance. This does not help. In
fact, all the finger-pointing make
things much worse.
Blaming yourself doesn’t work, either.
No matter how many mistakes you may have
made, tomorrow is another chance to do
better. You need high self-esteem to
give good service. Feeling ashamed
It doesn’t make sense to make excuses
and blame the computers, the system or
the budget, either. This kind of
justification only prolongs the pain
before the necessary changes can take
The most reliable way to bring about
constructive change in your organization
is to take personal responsibility and
help make good things happen. When you
see something that needs to be done, do
it. If you see something that needs to
be done in another department, recommend
it. Be the person who makes suggestions,
proposes new ideas and volunteers to
help on problem solving teams, projects
See the world from
each customer’s point of view. We often
get so caught up in our own world that
we lose sight of what our customers
Make time to stand on the other side of
the counter or listen on the other end
of the phone. Be a ‘mystery shopper’ at
your own place of business. Or become a
customer of your best competition. What
you notice when you look from the ‘other
side’ is what your customers experience
Finally, always remember that service is
the currency that keeps our economy
moving. I serve you in one business, you
serve me in another. When either of us
improves, the economy gets a little
better. When both of us improve, people
are sure to take notice. When everyone
improves, the whole world grows stronger
and closer together.
The time to make it happen is now.
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