We’ve all hit the point at one time or another when we find ourselves wondering how we can draw in new customers and increase sales.  Naturally, our minds jump first to developing a new advertising campaign, running a sale on existing products or services, or some other sure-to-work idea.  While these may be good plans in the short term, nothing can overcome the assistance provided by excellent customer service.

The feeling a customer gets when shopping for or after having purchased a product or service often determines whether they will return to your business again.  Think about your own experiences when shopping.  How do you decide where to purchase your goods?  For some people, price plays a significant role.  For others, the availability of a product and the ease of finding that product is the selling point.  And then there are those who choose based on more indirect factors such as the business atmosphere–Think Walmart shoppers versus those who shop at Target.  Which store has the more appealing atmospheric design?

Customer awareness is critical

In considering the example of Target versus Walmart, we can see just by looking at the above photos which company has dedicated more time and put in more effort to make their store appeal to shoppers.  Target utilizes a consistent design and color scheme throughout its stores, creating a rich, dare I say, “luxurious” environment that appeals to customers and makes them feel valued.

In recent years, Walmart has developed a reputation for poor customer service and low-quality products.  In spite of this, because Walmart has been claiming that they offer the lowest prices for so long, that fact tends to remain steadfast in customers’ minds.  In fact, Target stores consistently offer even lower prices than Walmart, but customers don’t associate Target with low prices just yet.  As a result, Target relies on design appeal and customer service to bring in customers.  When was the last time a Walmart employee actually knew whether a specific product was in stock, or which product was the better buy?  They are out there–having worked there for two years, I know this personally–but they are few and far between due to the company’s unwillingness to consistently inform its workers.  Target, on the other hand, has consistently outperformed its competitor with employees who know the store’s products, where to find them, when they will be in stock, and whose numbers allow the retailer’s shelves to remain dependably stocked.  Target seems to be aware of its customers’ needs and wants, and acts upon them, whereas Walmart simply cuts prices–and staff.

Word of mouth advertising rules all

As a small business, you can exercise the same methods as the corporate giants.  Be aware of your customers.  Provide them with surveys and ask them what they want.  Let them know you are interested in and value their opinions.  After all, a business cannot exist without customers.  Treat them like royalty.  And, once they have given you their feedback, take it into account!  Make changes to better suit their needs, and let them know what you’ve done for them.  In an economy overrun with so many retailers–like Walmart–demonstrating a lack of concern for their customers, your business will be a welcome change.  Offering a survey asking their opinions and then failing to utilize that data only disproves the “We care!” attitude implied when you first handed out the survey.  Following through and making good on your promises will gain your customers’ trust and support.  Word of mouth advertising is one of the strongest marketing tools available to any business–but you must make sure your customers are saying good things!

Go the extra mile

Every business is going to run into complaints at some point in time.  Instead of looking at them in a negative light, consider this:  Complaints are, essentially, a warning to you that your business has something to improve.  If you fail to improve in that aspect, that customer could bad-mouth your company to all of his or her friends–and this is not a desired result.

I make a point of approaching complaints as objectively as possible:  What is the problem, where did it arise, and how can I fix it?  I consider every customer as an individual and try to assess what will “make up” for the problem in each situation.  Are they looking for a refund, or are they looking for a satisfactory product or service?  Help them out as quickly and effectively as possible.

Customers expect to get what they paid for and be happy with it.  If your business can give them what they paid for plus something a little above and beyond, this will generally improve their perception of you and help them to understand they are valued.  These are the customers that are more likely to return–and more likely to talk about your business in a positive light.  I also make a point of following up with as many customers as possible to make sure they were happy with the product or service I provided to them.  It takes me less than a minute to ask a customer if their prints arrived and if they were happy with them.  If all is well, you’re all set and have let a customer know you care about their satisfaction.  If all is not well, you’ve just discovered a flaw and now have an opportunity to improve and prevent additional flaws.  Customer service is everything–treat it as such!

How do you exercise excellent customer service in your small business?  How have you handled complaints from customers?  Do you know someone in the process of improving customer service?  Tell us about it!  Leave a comment, follow us on Twitter @Cinderhawk, like us on Facebook, or follow this blog!


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