Most business owners understand that excellent service is imperative to their success, however, only a few organizations can consistently deliver.
Why is that?
There are many reasons why a customer service model may break down: rapid growth, unforeseen supply chain issues, inventory challenges, or company morale. If you run a business, you know that you can’t wholly avoid service challenges, but companies who integrate service excellence into their business strategy, recover from service challenges more quickly (Hart, Heskett, & Sasser, 2014).
The great thing about leveraging customer service as part of your marketing strategy is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. Smaller organizations are often more agile and autonomous, enabling them to set the standard for customer care in their industries. It’s a competitive landscape for small businesses who are competing against multi-national companies with seemingly unlimited resources, but while a small company may not have the resources to implement the latest technologies, consistently exceeding customer expectations can have tangible results.
5 Benefits of Customer Service
- Improve Sales. Customers who have a good experience with your business are likely to buy again, buy more, and buy more often. Since the cost of acquiring new customers can be significant, these repeat sales are also very profitable. Most industry experts agree it costs as much as five times more to replace a customer than it does to retain one (Hart, Heskett, & Sasser, 2014).
- Employee retention. Good service creates happy customers, and satisfied customers are more pleasant for employees to serve. Being empowered to create excellent service experiences also gives employees a sense of pride.
- Brand advocacy. When you delight your customers, they are likely to spread the word about your company and recommend your product or service. The experiences your customers share become a part of your brand. What brands immediately come to mind when you think of good customer service? Ritz Carleton? Zappos? Disney? Even if you haven’t had a personal experience with these companies, you likely have some association of exceptional service with these brands.
- Higher margins. As a small business, you may not have the ability to offer the low prices that multi-nationals or chain stores can. By providing excellent customer care, you can create real value that offsets a slightly higher price. As you establish your brand as one that offers high-end service, you may be able to charge a premium price over all your competitors.
- Competitive advantage. It takes time and effort to create a culture where your business consistently puts service at the core. A good customer service strategy is unique to each company, and when done well, it can create a long-term competitive advantage. By emphasizing customer service in your marketing strategy and then delivering on that promise, you’ll set yourself apart with something that is not only unique but challenging for your competition to replicate.
When Service Falls Short
Excellent service alone cannot guarantee success, but bad service is a sure way to entice failure. I had a personal encounter with lousy service when I visited a children’s book store in my neighbourhood. I wandered into the small shop looking for a few specific book titles; it was modestly sized, so the selection wasn’t terrific, but the employee was friendly and knowledgeable. When I asked for the specific books, she knew right away that her store didn’t have any of them in stock, explaining that they do not keep a large inventory, but that they do special orders. So, I ordered the titles and gave my contact information. I didn’t hear anything for a week, and when I called, no one answered, and there was no voicemail available. After two weeks, I stopped by the shop, and the staff informed me that they were down-sizing, carrying less inventory and no longer doing special orders. Irritated, I left and promptly pulled out my smart phone and ordered the books off Chapters-Indigo during my walk home. I went on the Facebook page for the local bookstore and sent a private message hoping I would reach the owner, explaining what had happened in hopes that they could improve their service – I never got a response.
Great Service for the Win
On the contrary, I recently had a fantastic service experience visiting the Walls Alive paint and décor shop on 17th Avenue in Calgary, AB. I walked into the shop with a colleague, and a friendly staff member and his adorable shop dog greeted us. The store was clean, bright, and classical music was softly playing. The staff asked us for details about our paint project, and after a thoughtful pause, he announced confidently, “I think you’re looking for Smidgeon C2-912!”. He brought us over to the paint sample and told us how the colour Smidgeon is a number-one seller, the perfect warm-grey that goes with everything. The staff brought out other colours and a brick sample to show us how the colour would look with different tones in our space. After some debate on the shade, he suggested doing a partial tint. While the paint mixed, we picked out a few tools and paid. When we were ready (despite the fact there were two of us) the staff carried our paint right out to the vehicle. The paint was lovely to work with, and the results were fantastic. Later, when I shared the results on social media, they commented and shared the image on their own social channel. I’ll never buy paint from a big box hardware store again.
7 Ways to Improve Customer Service
- As a brand ambassador, be the expert. Make recommendations that anticipate your customers’ needs.
- Use social media as a customer service tool. Conversely, consider using customer testimonials as marketing content.
- Leverage customer feedback to identify service and marketing improvement opportunities.
- Use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool to share data across marketing and customer service.
- Create easy lines of communication with routine meetings between customer service and marketing teams.
- Create alignment with shared goals like “customer lifetime value” or “churn rates” that both marketing and customer service power together.
- Establish customer relationship protocols but give a bit of autonomy to your front-line staff that empowers them to create their own customer solutions.
Customers care more about what you do for them than what you say you’ll do for them. That’s why customer service needs to be a consideration in your marketing strategy. Having exceptional customer service is vital to many businesses, but particularly for small businesses who need to compete with industry leaders. If you make it a priority, customer service can be a unique differentiation and attract even more customers. Live the customer service principals internally, and at all levels of the organization, and your exceptional service culture will ultimately add to your bottom line.
Hart, C. W., Heskett, J. L., & Sasser, W. E., Jr. (2014, August 01). The Profitable Art of Service Recovery. Retrieved May 16, 2019, from https://hbr.org/1990/07/the-profitable-art-of-service-recovery