Before there was unlimited long distance, phone service carriers battled for customers by offering the lowest prices in long distance service. During that time, I was an MCI customer who spent a great deal of time on the phone. One day, I saw an MCI commercial that offered a lower per minute long distance pricing than I was paying. This was not a short-term introductory price, but an ongoing lower rate. So I called and asked if I could get the lower rate. I was told that the lower rate was for new customers only. The experience always stuck with me because it didn’t make sense that MCI would treat its existing customers worse than strangers. Of course MCI isn’t the only company to neglect current customers in it’s quest to get new ones. Many businesses are guilty of wooing new customers and clients with great offers, only to ignore them once they’re hooked.
What these companies don’t realize is that customer service speaks directly to brand perception and done poorly, can hurt the business. On the other hand, customer service done right, means lower marketing costs because it’s less expensive to keep a customer or convert a referral from an existing customer than get a new one in a cold market.
Customer service should be a part of every business’ marketing plan and fit directly with the brand message they want to convey. Here’s some tips on how to do that.
1) Have a clear vision and mission for your brand. Companies like to throw around customer-centered slogans about trust and quality service, but these concepts mean nothing if the service the customer received isn’t honest or good. Develop a brand vision that aren’t just words that sound good, but instead reflect the experience you want your customer to receive.
2) Build your customer service policy around your brand vision. Dominos Pizza wanted to be known as the place that could deliver in 30 minutes or less. To that end, it created a policy that the pizza was free if delivery took more than 30 minutes. The idea is to match your customer service policy directly to the value you want to give your customer. If your brand vision is personalized service, then clients shouldn’t have to navigate automated phone systems to get help.
3) Follow-up. I mentioned in an earlier post about how an HP customer service rep follow up with me several days after I’d called about a tech issue. I’ve received follow up calls after buying a car and once after buying a house. You increase your brand value when customers believe you care about their experience after the sale, which can easily and affordably be done with a call or a personalized note.
4) Say thank you. Consumers have choices today and many choose businesses that make them feel appreciated. Again, this isn’t about a token, “Have a nice day” at the end of the customer transaction. Instead, it’s an occasional email or note, maybe with a coupon as a thank you for an order or for being a valued client.
5) Ask for feedback. More and more I’m seeing businesses that offer entry to win a shopping spree in return for giving feedback. Some stores have their sales people circle the website or phone number on the receipt so the customer is sure to see it. These businesses understand positive brand name starts with the customer experience and the best way to understand that is by asking. And to increase the odds of a customer giving feedback, they’re offering an incentive. Feedback can be asked in a variety of ways including email, online surveys, or social media.
Even the best companies with the most positive brands will have the occasional unhappy customer. But through a customer service policy that reflects and supports the business brand, a company is in a better position to convert an unhappy one-time customer into a happy repeat customer.
Leslie Truex is a career design expert who has been helping people find or create work that fits their lifestyle goals since 1998 through her website Work-At-Home Success. She is the author of “The Work-At-Home Success Bible” and “Jobs Online: How To Find a Get Hired to a Work-At-Home Job”. She speaks regularly on career-related topics including telecommuting and home business.