However, there’s a big difference between reading them and acknowledging their importance on one hand, and implementing them with authenticity. Any business can tell its employees to do these things, but rote behavior is not the answer. These characteristics need to become second nature to you and your employees if you want your business to transform to a customer-centric mindset.
1 know and understand your customers
Learn more about your customers — not by being snoopy, but by being friendly. Listen to them, their personal stories, desires, preferences, and complaints. Collect and record important information in your company’s customer relationship man- agement program, database, or other customer software for reference. This allows
you to anticipate their needs and surprise them
2 be honest and forthright
You can’t earn customers’ trust if you lie, stretch the truth, or gloss over prob- lems. When you’re open and honest with them, they’ll respect you. You’ll begin to gain their confidence. When a salesperson tells me not to purchase a particular item because I won’t like it (for whatever reason), I admire that. I assume that her candor has saved me some aggravation or discontent and I’m always grateful.
Example: I visited a neighborhood pool supply store to replace our skimmer. (Remember, I live in Arizona — pools are heaven when it’s 108° F/42° C.) It was my first time in the store and I was unfamiliar with pool products. The salesman told me that my broken skimmer was a low-end product and re- placing it with a similar unit would produce the same results. He showed me dif- ferent varieties from $12.99 up to those approaching $100. I was unsure which would be best at a reasonable price point. When I pointed out a product he hadn’t shown me, asking if it would serve my needs, he said it wouldn’t and explained why. Aha! That built up my level of trust for this guy. Before that, I wasn’t sure. So I purchased the skimmer that he recom- mended, which also happened to be on sale. Bonus. If I had discovered that he wasn’t genuine with me, it would have been the end of my patronage. I wouldn’t have gone back — ever. It’s not as if that store is the only pool vendor in my area. There are many in a warm climate like mine.
3 listen, listen, and listen again
Customers are the best information source on your company’s brand. Knowing what they like and dislike about its products and services will help your business identify its strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace. Customer input can also help ascertain any new opportunities your business may not have previously recog- nized and can guide any changes for improvement. Unlike corporations, small businesses do not always have the budgets needed to conduct thorough marketing research. However, there are less costly methods to help you gain an understanding of your customers’ feedback. Use online surveys as I described previously. If you aren’t experienced in devel- oping unbiased survey questions, review some professionally developed customer satisfaction questionnaires to learn how to frame your questions. There is a science to writing survey questions so they don’t skew results. If you have the funds, hire a marketing consultant or researcher to assist with the project and ensure that you include incentives and/or rewards for respondent participation.
4 lose the silo mentality
5 communicate with customers
Communicating regularly with customers is essential for customer engagement,building brand loyalty, and getting more word-of-mouth referrals.During the sales and fulfillment stage:For B2B and nonretail B2C companies, it’s imperative to keep customers up todate on their orders or projects. You can accomplish this by using customer com-munication management programs or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Admittedly,this is not my area of expertise, so I recommend seeking assistance if you want toexplore a technology solution.
6 respond to customers quickly
We can all relate to being on the other end of this issue. Ask yourself how many times you lost your patience or got aggravated with a business that did not re- spond quickly enough to you. Probably more than you care to remember, right? Don’t lose sight of those personal experiences when you are dealing with your customers. Treat them as you would want to be treated. The quicker you can respond to an inquiry or resolve an issue, the less chance there is of forgetting about it or letting it slide down your ‘to-do’ list. We’ve all been there — frantically writing notes on a piece of scratch paper as we listen to cus- tomers.
7 maintain a positive attitude
I’ll bet you’ve heard this advice limitless times. The weird thing is that as much as people know this, they don’t always follow it! Yet maintaining a positive attitude
at work can make a big difference in your customers’ brand experiences. If you (or employees) come to work edgy, grumpy, or unhappy, it will surely come through to your internal and external customers. You may think you’re demonstrating a positive attitude, but your voice inflections and body language may say something else altogether.
8 BE FRIENDLY AND PERSONABLE
Most customers and prospects like to deal with friendly, nice people who can answer their questions, handle their complaints or issues, demonstrate humility, empathize with them, be patient, and relate to them as human beings. Being friend- ly to both internal and external customers is everyone’s responsibility in your busi- ness. A Kingston University Business School in London 2013 study revealed that a simple smile and a friendly greeting can make customers feel much more loyal to- wards small independent companies. Unfortunately, just over half those sampled stated their small business employed this practice. Smiling and friendliness don’t cost anything!
9 DEMONSTRATE FLEXIBILITY
Flexibility is one area where small businesses can outshine the larger ones. Being smaller gives your company the ability to bend and adapt as needed. With fewer people (or just one person), there are fewer bosses to approve a cus- tomer service decision. Ideally, your employees have been empowered to make flexible decisions without the need to ask someone else. Flexibility is a major key to providing amazing service. Whenever possible, try saying, “yes” to customers before instinctively replying, “It’s not our policy,” or “Sorry, I can’t do that,” or “That’s not how we do things.”
10 BE PROACTIVE AND ANTICIPATE NEEDS
Small businesses have an advantage over larger companies in this area, too. There are typically fewer customers to know and track than at larger companies, making it easier to anticipate their needs. Some B2C companies have the ability to impress regular customers when they
arrive on location. An example is a coffee shop employee who knows her ‘regulars’ and their preferences. As these customers enter, she starts making their preferred coffees. Now these are impressive brand experiences!