By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, Overdrive contributors and Barefoot Wine Founders
These days, most companies have anything ranging from one person to a whole department dedicated to so-called “customer service.” But let’s be honest: For many of these departments, truly gratifying service isn’t on the menu. They’re more like “complaint resolution” departments. They take calls or answer emails from unhappy customers and then try to resolve the problem as quickly as possible (often relying on a script or protocol), then move on to the next.
Here’s how we recommend handling customer service:
- Give it away. We recommend winning your disappointed customers back by giving your employees room to offer them free products and/or services. That’s because when you only refund unhappy customers the money they paid, they’ll proceed to take their business elsewhere in the future. After all, you’ve given them only what’s due to them; not a compelling reason to stay. However, when you give customers free goods and services instead of, or even on top of, the refund, you’re saying, “We care about what you think! Please give us another chance to show you that we can exceed your expectations!”
- Start a conversation. Get your employees in the habit of seeing customer service as a way for your company to get real and timely feedback about your goods and services from the people who are actually using them. Train employees to ask about the customer’s experience with your company’s products, where they bought them, how much they paid, how it performed for them, etc., and to really listen to the answers. This information is priceless for your production and marketing people because it will enable them to meaningfully improve your products and communication—which, in turn, could make the difference in your company staying relevant. So make sure your employees are proactive about starting these conversations and encourage them to share questions that get great feedback from customers with each other.
- Look for ways to make customers happy. Yes, of course your employees should strive to win customers back whenever they’re dissatisfied. But no one at your company should just be sitting around and waiting for problems to arise. Encourage your employees to proactively think about what the company can do every day to make customers happy. These solutions don’t have to be difficult or complex. For example, at Barefoot, we thought of store displays as “retail entertainment.” We added color, fun and seasonal theme sets for the enjoyment of our customers as they shopped. And if these displays naturally caught new shoppers’ eyes … so much the better! Again, this is another great discussion to constantly be having with your employees. Encourage them to share their ideas for creating happier customers—no matter how crazy! You never know what’s going to work.
- Make customer service part of every employee’s job description. Ensure that everyone in your organization, from your receptionist to your office people, from your salespeople to your delivery people, and from your service people to your cashiers, knows where the money that pays their paycheck really comes from: Your customer! At Barefoot, new hires received an organization chart that showed the customer on top, as well as a “money map” that showed how the money came from the customer through the distribution channels, paid all the bills, and wound up in their paychecks.
Anyone with any customer contact should be ready to give sincere personalized attention: acknowledging the customer’s presence, making eye contact, addressing them by name, and conducting business in a helpful, friendly and personable manner. We suggest putting some teeth in this relationship by introducing incentives and bonuses based on sales, growth, and company profits.
- Expand the definition of “customer.” When they hear the word “customer,” your employees probably think about the end recipient of your company’s product: the person who hands over the cash in order to take the merchandise home. At Barefoot, though, we found it helpful to broaden our definition of “customer,” and thus, “customer service.” Specifically, we considered everyone who bought or handled Barefoot to be a customer: In addition to shoppers, that included distributors, brokers, retailers, etc. We knew that each entity that touched Barefoot, from the winery to the shopper, “bought” it for a different reason. We tried to address each buyer’s needs while providing them with speedy service, product availability, and friendliness, because if dealing with Barefoot was easy and profitable, that meant it would be more widely available for the shoppers who wanted to buy it. It also meant more sales and profits for us, too!
By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, Overdrive contributors and Barefoot Wine Founders. Michael and Bonnie are New York Times Bestselling Authors, International Keynote Speakers and Corporate Trainers. This is an excerpt from The Entrepreneurial Culture, How to Engage and Empower Your People