SERVICE: Your Best Advantage
I'd like you to hear about
customer service from the mouths of customers. I hope you find it valuable.
Sellers rarely see
their product or service in the same way that buyers do.
In fact, that is often the heart
of a failed advertising campaign. Or
even a failed business.
Countless research studies
confirm that consumers usually see little
significant difference among most
competing brands in many category. While
shoppers may be brand loyal to
Tide, many don't see it as appreciably
different than All or Cheer.
Of course, shoppers do see
some differences. But seeing differences is
not the same as a competitive
advantage. But if most buyers don't see the
product differences so dear to
sellers, how can a seller create a
Customer service may be
the only real, long-lasting competitive advantage.
Here are four ways real customers
say you can put good customer service to
work for you.
(1) Treat customers
John, a truck driver, is
from a small town in California. Here's what he
said about what good customer
service is. "Everything is so impersonal
here. I could go into a lot of
stores in my hometown and they'd smile at
me and say, 'hello.' They didn't
necessarily know my name, but they were
neighborly. They treated me like
a human being, not some number dressed up
I heard this same refrain
over and over in my research. Customers see
through the perfunctory apologies
and fake smiles. And it can actually
make the situation worse.
I recently waited several
hours for an AWA flight that was delayed on the
ground. When we boarded, the
captain offered a fast apology with all the
sincerity of a telemarketer. No
one expected free drinks, but people
grumbled. One said, "Does he
think he's doing us a favor? We're the ones
paying his salary." A
stewardess compounded the problem near the end of
the flight by sharply telling
people who only had their drinks for ten
minutes, "I need to take
everything now. So hurry up and finish."
The final straw came at
the end of a bumpy flight when the stewardess asked
departing passengers to pull down
the shade on their window so the plane
wouldn't get so hot. Not a big
deal, but after being treated like cattle,
it was the wrong thing to ask
passengers. One woman said, "Why should we
do their jobs for them?" And
at least one man actually pushed his closed
shade back up.
Of course, most employees
of this and other airlines are good at their
jobs. But these examples point
out how one or two employees can
accidentally damage a company's
reputation with many customers by
delivering only adequate customer
service. On the other hand, a good
employee can burnish a company's reputation.
Blythe, an infant care
professional, recently watched a waitress in a
coffeeshop at the Aladdin Hotel
casino bustle around, talking to customers
like they were old friends,
offering advice about food, keeping coffee cups
refilled without being asked, and
generally acting like she was enjoying
what she was doing.
"The really amazing
thing about it was how different
she was from the other
waitresses," said Blythe. "They were giving the
same ordinary service I've come
to expect. But when you get treated like a
nice person, the way my waitress
Janice treated me, you realize how much
we're all really missing in
almost every place we go. And when you get
that treatment, it really makes
an impact!" Blythe was so impressed that
she said she's writing to the casino.
(2) Give them
something, and be sure they know it
People like a gift. It
adds to the perceived value of the payment. Sees
Candies give buyers a truffle at
checkout. Recently I had some work done
on my car at Whitey's. The
mechanic noticed my blinker bulb wasn't working
and replaced it. When it still
didn't work, he found a metal tab that
wasn't making contact and
straightened it. It probably took less than
sixty seconds. But when he told
me he'd fixed a nagging problem I'd had,
and only charged me for the bulb,
the final bill seemed more than fair.
They always do something like
that, which is one of the reasons I keep
Look for a little
something you can give away to make your customers feel
good about your company. Pick
something that they will see as having
value. A cheap plastic keychain
gift won't make them happy.
(3) Take care of customers.
Many people come to a
business because they have a problem. It might be
something big like a will, or
small like lunchtime hunger. Either way,
they prefer to feel like the
business they patronize cares about their
Lorna is a nurse who just
came back from South Carolina. "I was in a Chick
Fil-A eating my sandwich when an
employee came up and asked if everything
was OK, and if I needed a drink
refill or some desert," she said. "I'd
never seen anything like that in
a fast food restaurant. They made me feel
really good about Chick Fil-A.
I'd sure go back again."
Margot just bought a
Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) from Best Buy. I
asked her why there. She said,
"I went to Best Buy, Circuit City and
CompUSA. Everybody else treated
me OK. They answered my questions and
were polite. Everyone's prices
were about the same. I bought from Best
Buy because their clerk spent an
hour with me, showing me the good and bad
points of each PDA, answering all
my questions - I didn't know anything
about PDAs-and he really acted
like he cared about me buying the right
one." (Margot bought an
expensive PDA for nearly $700.)
(4) Know your merchandise.
Most people have little
time to waste. They want to go into a store, be
treated like a human being, find
what they want and leave. If clerks don't
know the stock or make them wait
for answers, customers think they're
getting lousy customer service.
While it helps if they're friendly, it is
no substitute for knowledge.
Eric recently had a
problem with the expensive computer hardware used to
run his business. He called
Customer Service. "The techie was nice and
tried to be helpful, but he
really only knew the basic things to do, which
I'd already done. Every hour my
computers were down, I was losing money,
so I probably wasn't very nice.
It took me about an hour to bully my way
up the ladder to some experienced
guy who immediately understood what the
problem was. He talked me through
it on the phone in fifteen minutes. It
ticked me off that I had to wade
through all those other people to get to
the guy with the answers I needed."
Good customer service from
the customer's viewpoint isn't hard. It just
means following the Golden Rule
-- treat people the way you want to be
treated. It's also a Golden Rule
in another way. Those with employees who
follow the rule get the gold.
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