You've heard that the customer is always right. You may or may not agree with that statement, but everyone ought to agree that customers, and customer opinon, hold a very important place in our lives. After all, without customers - people who buy our products and services - our businesses close down and we all pack up to go home. The faster you can adapt to accommodate customer needs, the stronger your company's reputation.
Defining the Customer
At the risk of sounding basic, let's define a customer. In some cases our customer is "in-house." These are departments within a company that help other departments function. The "customer" is simply another department.
We also have the traditional definition of a customer - an end user. This is someone or some company who writes a check to acquire your products or services.
Both types of customers are important, but for very different reasons. We must keep "in-house" customer happy to maintain good esprit de corps and productivity. For external customers, we must keep them happy or they find someone else to provide them a product or service.
Tuning in to Customer Needs
Discovering what constitutes good customer service does not happen by osmosis. We have to ask. We must have open ears and learn what our customers want. But once we learn and take appropriate action, we cannot be complacent. After all, our customer's needs change. We have to continually ask and continuously learn.
All of this can be equated to tuning in to a radio station. A radio is a one-way event: Stations broadcasts, we receive. Our listening to the customer should be the same way. In other words, we can't get defensive - we have to be responsive. Our only talking should be to ask clarifying questions, much like fine-tuning our radio dial to get better reception of the signal. This requires attentive listening. Tuning in to our customer's needs is a fact-finding mission.
Show - Don't Just Tell - Customers We Appreciate Them
Customers need to feel appreciated. It is not uncommon for a customer to go out of his way to get products or service from an inconvenient source if the source provides excellent customer service. In other words, if we make customers feel like a million bucks, they'll go the extra mile to do business with us.
I'll never forget talking with a person who lived in a medium-sized town that had two hospitals. One hospital had a reputation for providing top-notch care. The other did not. My acquaintance told me that if she was ever in a car wreck and woke up in the "wrong" hospital, she would pull the IV's out of her arm and walk in her hospital gown to the hospital that provided better patient care.
I'd say that illustrates the power of good customer service. She had heard too many stories that convinced her that one hospital was going to take care of her better than the other.
What To Do
First things first: We need to discover our customer's opinions of our products and/or service. This occurs by asking. Using today's technology, this can happen by using something as simple as a feedback card, or by using an online service. Plenty of options exist. For those with limited budgets, SurveyMonkey.com offers free surveying capabilities. You can't get better than free.
Second, after gathering information, analyze it. Ask the tough questions and arrive at the tough answers. Be as objective as you can.
Third, act. Change what is necessary to improve your customer service rating. The more you can meet customer needs, the better your chance for long-term success in our fast-paced, ever-changing world.
There's a book by Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton that explains it all: It's Not The Big That Eats The Small, It's The Fast That Eats The Slow. In other words, we need to respond to customer needs in a timely manner if we're going to survive.
Bottom line: If you don't know how you're being perceived by your customers, you don't know if you're truly hitting the mark you set out for yourself. Ask. Seek answers. Then make informed decisions about how you can improve to meet your customer's needs, and give them the right impression and opinion of your business.