Masters of Customer Service
By Tannette Johnson-Elie
Customer service is the lifeblood of every business, but keeping customers satisfied is harder than ever these days as consumers collectively can make or break a company based on what they tweet or post online.
Today’s Customers Share their Experiences Online
A recent study by Dimensional Research and Zendesk found that 95% of consumers regularly share bad customer service experiences with others and additional research shows they are more likely to share their customer service experiences on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and write online reviews.
“Customer service is more important today than ever before,” says Rieva Lesonsky, founder and CEO of GrowBiz Media and a widely recognized small-business expert. “In this uber-connected world, where one complaint on social media can go viral in an instant, small business owners need to make sure their customers are happy.”
Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs Have an Advantage
When it comes to customer service, small business owners and entrepreneurs have an advantage because they can get to know customers much more intimately than their larger rivals and consequently, can add a personal touch that builds consumers’ trust.
For the little guy, customer service can be a powerful differentiator in a fiercely competitive marketplace, says Bary Moltz, a small business expert, speaker and author based in Chicago.
“Customer service now is the new marketing,” says Moltz, who has decades of experience running his own business ventures. “Customer service forms relationships with people, and people buy from those they know and trust.”
So what does it take to deliver good customer service at a time when consumers are more fed up with bad service and are more likely to complain about it online?
To answer that question, I turned to a couple of small businesses that have it down to a science.
You might say they are masters of customer service.
Personalized Service Goes a Long Way
At Form & Fitness, a personal training studio in Mequon, Wisconsin, each workout is tailor made to fit customer’s needs on a personal level. The first workout session is free and customers are asked about their health history and fitness needs. Going forward, each workout is documented to ensure it is on track with their goals.
“We have an awesome team that’s good at identifying people’s needs,” says Jeff Metzger, manager of Form & Fitness. “Each client is unique and they want something different. In this business, you can’t treat everyone the same.”
But the variety in workouts and the personalized training isn’t the only thing that keeps customers happy at Form & Fitness; many people come back for the camaraderie and the cozy atmosphere at the intimate, 4000-square-foot personal training studio.
“We’ve had the same customers for 10 years. When you walk through our doors here, you feel like you’re at home. The good thing is we don’t have the large crowds that you find at other larger studios.”
Attend to the Details
Julie Brugioni, president and owner of The Silk Thumb Ltd., strives to provide the best personalized service to her customers. Located in Highland Park, Illinois, The Silk Thumb specializes in silk floral arrangements and plants and trees for homes and businesses.
“When delivering an arrangement to a residence or installing trees for a corporation, I am there and making sure that everything looks perfect,” said Brugioni. “My personalized attention doesn’t end after the transaction. You will see me, the owner, carrying trees, getting on my knees stuffing pots with moss and lifting bags of rocks for outdoor planters.
Brugioni has worked in the 32-year-old business off-and-on since she was 16. She purchased The Silk Thumb from the previous owner six years ago. Today, she takes pride in the business she has been a part of for so long, which is demonstrated by the way she treats her customers.
“I love what I do and it is a joy for me to work with our customers,” she said. “I think they see my passion, our talent and beautiful products and that is why they continue to come back.”
Combine In-Store Service with Social Media Presence
Moltz and other small business experts believe that delivering good customer service today requires a combination of personalized service as exemplified by Brugioni and Metzger, coupled with new skills and tools that might include a social media presence, a company blog and a YouTube channel.
In a marketplace where consumers now wield more power than ever, it’s important that small business owners and entrepreneurs engage with customers as much as possible, says Moltz.
““Listen to what your customers are telling you without being defensive,” says Moltz. “Any feedback or complaint from a customer is really a gift.”
Beneath all the noise in a connected, online world, what do customers really want?
“They want a business to respond to their complaints quickly and they want the person they talk with to be pleasant.”