By Rosemary Plorin
Henry Ford once said, “It’s not the employer who pays wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” Customers not only pay employee wages, but determine a company’s profitability. As phone trees and online commerce have virtually removed the human connection, it’s all the more important to find ways to make each relationship count.
Marketing and customer service departments have traditionally been separate entities with an organization. But that’s changing as company execs realize customer service is not the domain of a single department, but includes every single person in the company who interacts with customers. In today’s world when a customer service nightmare can go viral – and global – in a matter of minutes, you can’t use advertising memes like “customers are our priority,” unless they really are.
Happy Customers Mean Higher Profits
A lot of work goes into finding new customers, but turning first time customers into loyal customers is even more important. Returning customers make more purchases, buy more frequently, are less expensive to serve and more profitable than new customers. Loyal customers almost always mean higher profits.
One of the most important influencers of whether or not customers return is the level of satisfaction they feel when they interact with company representatives, no matter what the reason. Those interactions with real people are the relationships that count.
Taking Customer Service to the Next Level
Great customer service is more than lip service. It’s a philosophy that starts at the top and is emphasized in every aspect of training and employee performance. Here are the core principles that comprise excellent customer care:
- Empower Team Members: Team members, particularly those who take customer calls or are responsible for answering client emails, must be empowered with enough authority to not only work on behalf of the customer, but resolve the problem without passing it on to someone else.
- Practice Empathy: Train responders to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. It’s easy to feel attacked by the words of an angry caller, but team members must learn to put emotion aside and hear what the customer is actually saying and feeling. Staying calm, reviewing facts and exhibiting sympathy and understanding are key to defusing a situation and building rapport.
- Apologize When Necessary: Humans make mistakes. Orders arrive late or are shipped to the wrong place. A simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way toward building trust between the company and the customer or client.
- Fix the Problem, Add a Perk: Remedy the situation as soon as possible. Adding a perk, perhaps a percent off coupon for later use or providing a free item, is a proven method of service recovery and building loyalty after something goes wrong.
When They Don’t Call: Building Customer Loyalty Through Social Media
Of course, not every customer or client will call you. How can you build a connection without actually speaking to a customer? That’s where social media comes in. Used correctly, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites put the “personal” back into doing business. If you don’t do it right, however, you can make frustrated customers more angry.
Customer are increasingly more likely to contact a business through a Facebook page than call on the phone. Facebook is a great way to build customer loyalty, engage current customers and find new clients. But if you leave the customer hanging, without acknowledgement or reply, you’ll pay for it in a public way.
A recent study found that customers expect companies to respond to a tweet in less than an hour. If they don’t, 38 percent experience negative feelings toward the organization and 60 percent of those will voice their displeasure online for the world to see.
On the other hand, when companies actively and quickly respond, 34 percent make purchases, 43 percent promote the company to family and friends and 42 percent use social media to recommend the organization. Social media is the word-of-mouth of the digital age. It can’t be placed left to chance.
To take full advantage of social media, assign a well-trained customer service team to respond to customer posts. Unless your team is on 24-hours a day, specify times staff is available to respond. Train team members to use the opportunity to build long-lasting customer loyalty. Make it personal: use names when provided; comment on specifics; fix problems. Issues resolved through social media are out there for everyone to see (whether it’s on one of your own social media assets or someone else’s). Make sure your team creates positive experiences.
Traditional or virtual, customer interaction is always personal. Be sure to make superb customer service the core of your marketing strategy.