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Opinion: Growing customer demand shouldn't spoil service

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Increased demand creates a service challenge for businesses selling everything from food to dentistry to capital equipment, and some companies starting to feel the strain aren’t keeping up.

Smart executives have long understood the value of promising and delivering an excellent customer experience. But delivering on that promise is another matter, especially when historic pent-up purchasing restraint relaxes.

Leaders have a lot on their plates right now, just handling material shortages, delays from suppliers and service providers, and dealing with increased costs and labor issues. But it’s a pain in the neck for customers, too. They want good products with good service and will look elsewhere if a business can’t deliver.

Here are five mistakes that can spoil your customer service.

1. Poor complaint resolution. The other week, I purchased a bagel. But it was rock hard, and I couldn’t eat it. Several days later when I returned for another purchase, I brought it to an employee’s attention, and her “sorry” reminded me of how a kid apologizes when they don’t mean it. Without another word, she handed me my new purchase and closed the window.

So, I just sat there. When the employee reopened the window, I said, “I think something should be done.”

“You want me to replace it?” she snapped back.

“Do whatever you think you should do,” I answered with all the politeness I could muster. She returned in a few moments with a fresh bagel. “Here’s your bagel,” she said, and shut the window.

With my bagel problem resolved, I drove away, but it tainted my experience. Like any customer, if I keep getting employee indifference, I’ll leave even if I do like the product.

2. A sales approach that’s pitchy. We shopped for a new recliner recently and returned to our favorite furniture store. When I raised a serious question about a recliner’s obvious wobbly frame, the salesperson explained that “hundreds of people” sit in that recliner every day.

Her reaction didn’t feel right. It felt iffy like she pitched us and tried to sell any recliner rather than helping us find the right recliner. Customers don’t want fluff; they want to feel like they can trust your problem-solving.

3. Sloppy on the details. When we needed outside home repairs due to some storm damage, a highly recommended home repair company did the job. They produced a very nice, finished result, but I found over 50 nails, bolts and screws in the grass when I did a quick walk around. One of those nails could have damaged a mower or ended up in someone’s foot. We took a picture and emailed it to the company.

While the manager handled it well and promised us that someone would be out to clean up, we never saw anyone nor had any further contact from the company. The takeaway: Follow through on your communications, and do the little things right.

4. Poor follow-up. A CEO-client was telling me of a significant capital expenditure they were trying to make. He contacted four manufacturers by email and phone, but he was appalled when only two ever got back to him. Worse yet, the two who did initially respond never answered his questions.

Poor follow-up is one reason customers don’t make a repeat purchase with a company and don’t give referrals. Follow-up isn’t easy to manage when you’re busy, but it’s essential.

5. Unclear standards. Another client told me their “service sucked” because one-half of the operation delivered excellent service and the other half provided poor service. Create clear standards that align with your customer’s expectations, then reinforce them across the enterprise.

Pandemic customer spending restraints finally loosen their grip and give rise to an economy that may soon be on full blast. Manage service closely so that you can grow sales both now and for the future.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and MarkHolmesGroup.com. He can be reached at 

mark@markholmesgroup.com.

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