Here's a question for you. When was the last time you approached your business as if you were a brand new customer?
For most of February I was away from my home in the United States, visiting France and delivering training in the Middle East. Under those circumstances, I was a customer a whole lot more than usual. My seemingly constant contact with hotels, restaurants, car rentals, trains, and airports for that period of time provided me with both reminders and fresh insights about what works (and what doesn't work) in customer service.
Let's start with airlines. Here's what I loved: Flight attendants smiling broadly and welcoming each of us as we boarded the plane. Also flight attendants with an obvious spirit of cooperation among themselves as they ensured each customer's needs were met.
The opposite turned me off: Flight attendants looking bothered as people boarded and attendants rolling their eyes at the other flight attendants behind their backs.
As customers, price isn't the only determining factor for where we choose to do business. I'll spend a bit more money if I like the customer service at a particular business. And, I'll look elsewhere if customer service is routinely off the mark.
What about your business? What would your customers say about how you greet them, how you treat them, and how you talk about/treat your co-workers? Chances are that other businesses also provide the same product or service as you, and price is not the only factor that your customers consider.
The extra mile goes farther than a mile
Restaurants also provide good discussion points, because a broad spectrum of customer service can be expected at them, depending on the style and class of restaurant.
During this past month I ate at a wide range of establishments, from small sandwich shops to fine dining locations. Accordingly, different levels of service were expected. But in some places, employees went above and beyond, even at some of the sandwich shops.
Note to all businesses: Extra-mile service is recognized - and rewarded - by customers.
Something else that was magnified to me this month (probably because I wasn't fluent in the local languages) is how important it is for service providers to strive to understand customer wants and needs. It was easy to tell when someone went through the motions versus someone who truly wanted to make sure they got everything right. Eye contact, facial expression, and other body language spoke much louder than words.
I must say that this attentiveness factor played a huge role in deciding whether I wanted to return to a particular place of business. If the service at a particular place of business was mediocre or poor, even if I liked their product or facility, I had no desire to go back.
Good service gets rewarded
Also, as a result of the factors listed above, I noticed that when servers made me feel special, I tended to buy more. If I was at a restaurant, perhaps I bought desert when originally I hadn't planned on it, or perhaps I ordered several more drinks for myself and others. In fact, at one hotel I stayed an extra night because the staff was so friendly.
Cost-wise, I estimate that I spent about 20 percent more money in places where I was made to feel special. Not only that, I'll be recommending those establishments to my friends, and that means more future income for those businesses.
Interestingly, when the service I received was the "expected minimum," I look back and notice that I spent what could be considered the "expected minimum."
The 'signs' of good service
An issue that's not normally considered part of customer service is user-friendly signage.
Want customers to know where your business is? Make sure signs are in the right places so people can find you, and that your advertising and/or website has clear instruction about your location.
Also make sure your business hours are posted, and make visible any other vital directions that people may need. You are involved with your business on a daily basis, so it's easy for things to become second nature to you. But what's natural for you can be totally foreign to new customers.
So after all this, here's my recommendation: Revisit your business with "fresh" eyes. Better yet, ask someone you trust to visit your business and then tell you what they liked and didn't like about the experience.
You might be surprised to learn that a few simple changes would make it easier for them to make a purchase (plus be more likely to purchase from you again in the future!).
One more thing. If you're considering a trip to France or Qatar in the near future and would like my recommendations on places to visit (as well as places to avoid), feel free to contact me and I'll be glad to tell you.