Often times your customers may have a problem with your service or product because their expectations were not in line with what your business could sufficiently provide. I noticed this with my business when a new cohort of customers were suddenly unhappy with the same level of service that previous customers had been ecstatic with. I had to ask myself two questions in order to solve this problem: Why are they unhappy? And what can I do about it?
My customers were unhappy because they didn’t understand that our price list was not exhaustive (even though it stated it was not) , and thus assumed that the garments they sent for us to be cleaned were priced at something on that list. Without boring you too much about dry cleaning details, garments made of linen, silk, down, not to mention garments with pleats and other hard to clean clothing styles, all take extra time and care to clean, thus requiring a higher price. I suddenly noticed that these new customers did not know this and were complaining every time their cleaning cost more than what they had expected. (Just a side note, there are about 700 items to be priced for a dry cleaner so listing them all can be difficult).
Now comes the answer to my second question. What can I do about it? First I tried to please any customer already served as best I could. At the same time I realized that to avoid these problems I needed to educate all my new customers about these details. Every email that was sent out to a new customer received a brief paragraph explaining the need for extra care on particular items, and every new customer spoken to over the phone received the same short and concise lesson.
The conclusion: no more complaints! New customers excepted the fact that their clothing may not be what they had thought. By taking 30 seconds to simply educate my customer and ground their expectations frustration was avoided on both sides. The problem is, you may not know what the problems will be until they come up, as was the case with our promotion.
In my previous post on customer service I explain how I dealt with some of these complaints, which might be useful. And lastly, this article by Richard Branson made me think a lot about this problem. I highly recommend reading it, the man knows a thing or two about running a successful business.
Customer service is tricky. What is good customer service? What is bad customer service? As a business, how far do you have to go to please a customer?
The not so surprising answer to these questions is that there is no right answer. It depends on a lot of factors but a few are: your type of business, how many customers you have, the value of each customer the costs involved to please them, and what type of reputation you want.
I am in the service industry and my customer types vary greatly. Some use the service every week, others every month. I obviously want to keep those frequent high volume customers happy and I would rather spend more resources on pleasing them. But what if that low volume customer is a connector, meaning they talk a lot to other people and those people listen. Maybe they write a blog about great service with 1000’s of subscribers. But even worse, we don’t know who they are because we have far too many customers to keep track. This customer has a certain value that we can’t quantify through our sales data. Unless they are referring customers constantly how will we know just how valuable this customer is beyond how much they spend. It is therefore so important for us to keep a high level of service for all of our customers. Sure, we will monetarily reward our customers who spend more (ie. our Executive Club) but there is no way that we can differentiate which customer is a connector and will say great things about us (or worse yet, who will say something bad about us).
By offering a high standard of service you our bound to get that reputation on peoples lips eventually. Although, this doesn’t mean that you throw the bank at every customer no matter what the problem is. It is so important to stick by your standards and set customers expectations because for everyone of them that is a connector (let’s say 1 in 10) there is another one who will abuse good service because they can. And knowing when to say enough is enough is just as important as giving great service.
Lastly, never offer an unhappy customer everything at once. First try explaining to them the problem and if they are still not pleased offer a monetary incentive. They may or may not be happy with that first bone but at least if you don’t offer them everything at once you’ll at least have some more ammunition for round two!