Those of you who follow my blog closely have probably noticed two themes alternating in my posts recently, sales and customer service.
The reason for the first one is that sales are very close to my heart. I consider myself a sales guy and also selling is something I enjoy doing. I am also publishing a book on sales in February (you can pre-order it 30% cheaper here by the way) and generally enjoy writing about it. The second one because I see a major decline in customer service, the area of business that I find to be the most crucial to its success.
Let’s face it, without happy customers your business can’t survive. You can be selling like mad but if you do not retain your new customers, you will never build a profitable company.
However, as simple as it sounds, making your customers happy seems to be a problem for many startups.
Today I want to shed some light on what you should and should not be doing to provide excellent customer service.
Working with customers can be tricky, especially if you are only starting out. On one end almost every person starting out in business knows that he or she has to turn every customer into the business’ evangelist, on the other, they pretty much don’t know how.
And quite often startups misidentify the needs of their customers. I hate generalizations but in that case I have seen it happening so often that I decided to use it.
One of the most notorious errors that startups make is trying to over-please, or impress, their clients. It seems quite logical that if you do that, the client is going to love you. In practice though, it leads to problems only.
There are various forms of over-pleasing but here are the most common ones I identified:
1. Agreeing to everything.
This is a very common practice amongst not only new business owners. However, agreeing to everything the clients asks for is never a good thing to do.
Agreeing to unlimited revisions, complete project rework or many other things seem fine at the moment when you say “yes”. However, in time you may discover that the project simply doesn’t want to end and the reason for that are the things you agreed to.
This often leads to frustration, delivering half finished work and many other problems that leave a stain on business relationships.
2. Reducing the price to make the client like you more.
I always say that the first discount you give your client marks the end of your business relationship. Why? Because in that very moment the lower price, or a discount becomes a norm and the client will expect it next time. So, what looks great in theory may actually end your relationship in practice.
3. Adding freebies that the client doesn’t really need (but you will have to support).
Usually they are the things that don’t matter anyway and only confuse the client. But when something goes wrong with them, you still have to support them at your cost and expense of your product or service being considered incomplete or not working.
4. Making promises you cannot or do not want to keep.
Very often you may say yes to a request you cannot (or don’t want to) keep. This may be due to time limits or any other reasons. And if it’s a small request, you may think that the client will forget. The trouble is that they rarely do, and if you have promised something, they will come back looking for it.
5. Telling the clients only what they want to hear.
Clients always want to hear good news, however sometimes we have to give them the bad ones too. You may feel afraid to break them to the client but telling him a sweet lie won’t help. He might get impressed, sure, but only till the truth comes out. Which it often does.
All of the above lead to frustration, either on your or the clients part. Either you, because of the promises you have made, have to work more on the project, naturally losing money and time or you are working on a cheaper rate. Or you have to live in fear that a lie you told the client will eventually come out.
Neither of those situations will make you enthusiastic about working on the project. And without enthusiasm you will never provide good service, believe me.
The client on the other hand may be frustrated that even though you charged him less for the first time, now your rate is much higher. They won’t remember that the previous one was just an introductory one and will expect it to be the same all the time.
They may also be frustrated that you no longer cooperate with them as you used to, or that you become less responsive (because you may already have other projects and need to shuffle between all of them) and so on.
The result of such situation is never what it was originally intended and usually it acts agains you.
Instead, if you want to WOW your client when providing customer service focus on 4 most important things clients care about:
1. They want to know that you value and respect them
That you are there for them whenever they need your help and that you do everything you can to achieve that.
You earn it in the easiest possible way, by constantly communicating with your clients.
Talk to them regularly, let them ring you, or email you, or Skype or whichever form of contact you prefer. And when they do, listen to them carefully. Make notes of what they tell you, all the problems they mention and then, act on it.
Offer solutions, find better ways to work things out, be a person who acts. They will love you for that.
And if it is you who has a problem, let them know straight away. Communicate any difficulties as early as possible, offer solutions if possible, or seek ones too. Clients will be much happier if they find out about a problem before it becomes a serious issue and believe me, they will appreciate that more than if you kept them in the dark.
2. They want to have their projects done on time.
Clients usually have agendas behind the projects you do for them, so make sure that you do your best to deliver the work on time.
You do not have to deliver the work earlier, no one expects that from you (another customer service misconception) but work really hard to do not be late with it.
What I found really useful was a booking system. We identified how much work (more or less naturally) we could do in a week and we started booking jobs in into a calendar. We would assign a spot for each project so that the clients knew when we will work on their stuff, and also it was much easier for us to work out our availability.
You can use other systems but make sure that you always account for any potential hiccups that can pop up.
3. They don’t want to pay more than it was agreed upon (unless there is a reason).
We all have our budgets and chances are that your clients work on a tight one. And the last thing they want is to find out that now they owe you twice as much as agreed.
Work within the agreed budget as much as possible but do not be afraid to ask for more money if required (clients asking for additional work outside the scope of work for instance, or additional purchases like stock photography that you have to make).
4. They want to know that you will be there for them once the project ends.
It is a known fact that you earn a reorder not from the work you did on the project but the support you provided afterward.
However, the post project support is also the most problematic part of your work. This is the part that you are not paid for and also the one where you interact with your clients the most.
Clients usually leave you alone when you work on their project, however, once they receive the completed work they start asking questions. They ring you, or ask for more meetings to discuss the project, some elements of it they don’t understand and often, what to do next.
Answer all their questions, try to devote as much of your time to post project support. Also make sure that you respond quickly. Clients often don’t understand that what they are asking about is simple and may feel worried about what is happening. Keep that in mind and make sure that they are served as quickly as possible, within reason of course.
The initial few weeks after the projects completion is the time when you win clients over and convince them to reorder from you. And chances are that they will start talking about more work during that time too.
The above four are the most crucial things you need to remember when it comes to servicing your clines. Naturally there are many more ways you can act on those but as long as you keep those four things your clients care about the most in mind, you will be fine.
Here are few more things that I used to do in my business and know that they work well when it comes to customer services:
1. Send regular updates to your clients while you work on their project.
At some point we started sending weekly progress reports to our clients. It would be a short email, or a post in Basecamp later on, with a status of the work. We never went into detail with it but even with generic info, the clients were extremely happy.
2. Call in out of the blue to check if everything’s OK.
I used to visit my clients offices without appointment just to check if everything is ok with the projects we delivered.
If I was passing by a clients office, I would call in for 5 minutes to see if they don’t have any problems or need some help from us.
3. Create a community and bring your clients closer to you.
I used to organize free training and advice sessions to our customers to help them work more efficiently. During those I was also available for any one to one sessions helping them as much as I could with their work. As a result, the amount of work from the clients who would come to those meetings regularly increased few times.
4. Regularly ask for feedback.
Ask your clients if they are happy with what you do and how you service them. Evaluate yourself. It is better to have the client mentioning that they feel there is something wrong with your service before it becomes a real problem.