How to Provide Exceptional Customer Service in These Tough Times 1

Your customer’s buying habits are changing. Today’s consumer is a much more informed consumer and a much more demanding one – especially in these economically challenging times. Customers are tired of feeling like they have been taken advantage of and are less likely to be fooled by slick advertising campaigns that make unsubstantiated claims about the prowess of your product or service. They want their needs met and are willing to take their business elsewhere if you fall short. To ignore this trend would be to do so at your peril. I believe the only advantage that you have left – to set yourself apart from your competition – is the level of customer service that you provide.

Providing customer service, let alone exceptional service, is challenging at the best of times. And to make matters worse you are under attack on two fronts. First: The cost of doing business continues to rise – and – Second: Your competitors are reducing their retail prices in an attempt to entice shoppers to spend what little disposable income they may have left. If you are forced to lower your retail prices in order to compete – it will put tremendous pressure on your margins and your ability to stay in business. Can you afford to offer exceptional customer service in order to maintain or grow your market share? Or will so-so service do?

Exceptional customer service is difficult to define because it’s all about perception. (Perception is the new reality) It doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what your customer thinks. If your customer thinks you are providing exceptional customer service – then you are. (Of course the opposite is also true) Your challenge is to figure out how to use the customer’s perception of exceptional customer service to your advantage. What type of customer service is the consumer looking for? The other question to ask yourself is – what aren’t they looking for? Perhaps the answer to these two questions can be found in a survey conducted by Eticon Inc.

According to 1,281 consumers who participated in a customer service survey, what isn’t exceptional is rude telephone behaviour, especially unreturned phone calls. A “don’t care attitude” was listed by 55% of the respondents as a good enough reason not to do repeat business. Another 35% cited ignoring them to carry on a private conversation with another employee in person or on the phone was not exceptional service. Asked how they would respond to rudeness, 58% said they would take their business elsewhere. Here’s the kicker. In 42% of the replies, respondents said they would go out of their way to do business with where they got polite, respectful treatment. How much does it cost to be polite and to treat your customers with respect?

What is your perception of exceptional customer service? I don’t think you have to train your sales people to run up and down the aisles looking for customers. I believe all you have to do is teach your staff how you want them to react when your customers find them. (And trust me they will find them.) Companies spend thousands if not millions of advertising dollars a year to lure customers into their place of business but then allow their sales people to ignore them when they show up.

Here’s the key. All you have to be, to be exceptional in the eyes of the customer, is to be better than the last shopping experience that they had. All you have to be, to be exceptional is to be better than your competition. According to that survey, it’s really not that tough at all.

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