no hidden costs

No hidden costs!

In keeping with this week’s theme of customer service, we wanted to discuss the different types of customer service a small business can offer. There’s good customer service, there’s bad customer service, and then there is no customer service at all.

Entrepreneurs and small business who offer quality goods or services as well as good customer service, will more likely retain a customer in the event of a problem. When a client sees that a business has procedures for dealing with problems before they become problems, a loyalty and advocacy is developed in that client.

Bad customer service has the potential to cost your business customers before they even make a purchase! When new customers try to engage a business in pre-sales discussions, or try to get additional product information and find themselves ignored, talked down to or subjected to long waits, they might head to the next competitor before they even reach for their purchase order, cheque book or wallet.

Then, amazingly, there are businesses who offer no customer service at all. This is not bad customer service. It is purposely used by companies who are selling products or services that do not need customer service. Instead of having a customer service department, they focus on making the product as good as they can and focus on eliminating dissatisfaction. They have well trained sales teams who know how to eliminate every potential problem that a customer might have with the product the company sells. So there is no need for an actual customer service department.

For the purpose of this blog, we are going to focus on how companies can provide bad customer service and what effects this has on their business. Here are some examples of how a company can provide bad customer service

• Changing pricing after the deal is signed. Even if it is a misquoted price or one that was underestimated, your client will first cry foul and assume that you have tried to rip them off. Make sure that the right products have the right prices – and that the estimate is accurate and does not have any hidden fees.

• Using improper language. When dealing with a customer in making a sale or dealing with a compliant, it is important not to use bad language or words that may be interpreted as foul or offensive. This includes street slang or hard-to-understand regional dialects. Keep the language of all business dealings professional. This will demonstrate to the customer that you mean business.

• Not answering the phone. Often when a small business is very busy or avoiding calls, they do not realize the ramifications. Potential and existing customers who want to do business should be able to talk to someone. Having an answering service can help, but if you do not return calls, it is really the same as not answering in the first place! If customers calls are unanswered, they will look to find another provider. (We might do another future blog on just telephone etiquette for small business.)

• Using a P.O. box as your business address. Nothing scares people into thinking “fly-by-night” when they see that a business is using a Post Office box as its address. Customers want to know a way of finding you immediately if a problem comes up. Even if there is never a need for a customer to visit your business, the perception of not having a real address is that of bad customer service. One way of having a professional business address is having a virtual office at an actual professional business centre.

• Not listening to your customers. When a company does not listen to the needs of its clients and only insists that their own solutions are the right ones, it can often offend a customer. They may have hired you or chose your product because of reputation or perceived quality, but not allowing them to have input will have them looking for someone else who will listen.

• Leaving a job incomplete. If you are service-based industry, then provide a completed service the first time and not one that needs to be revisited or requires several follow-ups. You got the job because you made a promise to deliver a service, not partly deliver a service that does not fill the customer’s needs.

• Not attempting to fix a problem related to your product. This is similar to leaving a job incomplete. If there is something you can fix or change, you have a good chance of retaining a customer. By not showing a willingness to attempt to fix the problem (or give them alternative solutions to resolving their issue), you are risking your reputation and future customers who may hear about the problem through social media or complaint boards.

• Dressing inappropriately. A lot of new business owners and entrepreneurs make the assumption that the world has changed and customers do not expect you to wear a suit and tie any more. While this may be partially true, they do expect at the very least an attempt at ‘visual professionalism.’ Read our blog about business casual does not just apply to business attire.

Your existing customer service model will not only affect current customers you are dealing with, but your reputation and the willingness of potential future customers to engage with your business. This is especially true in the digital age. The internet has become the international sounding board. There are websites dedicated to reviews, complaints and places people look for help. Then there are places where your potential customers get their  information from without even having to research you – places like Facebook, Google Plus groups and other social media sites. Please remember this.