Cultivating Positive Relationships Customer Service Empowerment Techniques

It’s the little things that add up big!

Often, in the heat of daily deadlines and stress, companies pay too little attention to a vitally important part of their operations: the little things. Because these seem to be small items that can disgruntle present customers or prospects, those offended may be less likely to express their discontent to you directly.

They either decide to go away quietly, or you could find yourself at the negative end of a social-media review without warning. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and determine if the following examples may be adding up to trouble in your company:

Avoid/address hidden price creep.

Most customers understand reasonable price increases tied to inflation and other marketplace influences. Where it can get sticky is seemingly hidden methods companies use to jack up prices on comparatively innocuous items. For example, when customers suddenly can’t buy cheaper in-house branded products they’re used to, versus name brand, it can be frustrating.

While one or two such occurrences may just cause a bit of irritation, the cumulative effect can send a loyal customer elsewhere. Survey customers to address sentiments about this issue, then take measures as needed to avoid widespread alienation.

Counter common sense-less customer service.

Stress and financial issues are rampant. It’s vital that companies train customer-facing employees to use common sense in their dealings. Most important, it’s critical to give them that authority without always having to check first with a supervisor.

Real-life case in point: A consumer asks a customer-service person to identify which holiday plant is freshest. She identifies one, and says it’s $12.99. When the customer points out that the sign clearly states $9.99 (and that it’s his birthday, to boot), she says that offer has expired (the plant display had covered up the expiration date).

No “Happy Birthday” wish or offer to honor the lower price was forthcoming. Shortly thereafter, a store manager gave the customer the plant free with birthday wishes. The company easily could have avoided spending extra time on the issue, made $9.99 on the sale and wound up with a happier, longtime customer.

Here’s a real-life counterpoint to the above example: Customer orders a Happy Hour drink, not realizing it’s just past that time. Instead of making the customer pay the higher price, the server offers (without being asked) to honor the Happy Hour price on the first drink. It’s a small gesture that can leave a strong positive impression about that restaurant, and prompt future expenditures.

To help ensure that giving customer service authority doesn’t go overboard, simply provide clear guidelines about what is acceptable — and where employees need to consult a manager. And teach them how to present that situation (e.g., “I certainly feel you have a valid request. Let me confirm that I can do this. It will only take a minute”). Most consumers will be very reasonable in this situation.

Lose the lukewarm attitude.

Communication tone and tenor can be major factors in customer loyalty and longevity. It doesn’t take much to brighten or sour someone’s day, leading them to or away from your company. This is especially true now, when patience and tolerance often are in short supply.

Companies are well-advised to foster a culture of consumer advocacy and support. Even when faced with clearly unreasonable or irrational customer demands, company personnel need to remain positive and proactive about meeting a request.

By doing this, the company can assure itself (as well as any relevant stakeholders) that it did the best job possible of dealing with the issue up to a reasonable point. It minimizes the likelihood of having to perform “forensic customer service” to determine causes and effects, which can detract from productivity and add to employee frustration.

Quit piling on.

Product or service fee add-ons can leave consumers feeling fleeced. While airlines try to bolster profitability with an ever-increasing array of extra fees, it leaves people wondering what’s next (e.g., fees to use the restrooms). These add-ons, which bigger companies seem to believe they can impose with impunity, can prove annoying even in small doses in small companies.

Remember, it’s not just about the amount of money; it’s also about the feeling of being exploited at every turn. Customers who feel nickel-and-dimed to death will keep a keen eye open for a competitor who doesn’t pursue such policies.

In an increasingly competitive and cutthroat marketplace, paying attention to the little things can have major positive impact on the big picture.

Mark Lusky, President, Mark Lusky Communications (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. READ BIO
Original article link: It’s the little things that add up big on the small-biz bottom line – Published in the Denver Business Journal, 01-2013

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