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A Chance To Review Customer Service
By John Kilroy on July 15, 2011

We'll put the racing industry against any other industry when it comes to customers service. Racing retailers, engine builders, fabricators and other racing businesses almost universally tend to go above and beyond to keep their customers racing.

However, if you want to take a few minutes to review and maybe rethink the customer service at your racing business, you may want to check these thoughts from Ed Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. He shared his perspective on customer service with us, and we thought we’d pass along his advice for your consideration. Hess has a new book “Growing an Entrepreneurial Business: Concepts & Cases” out by Stanford University PRess, available for sale at Amazon.com (Click here to purchase the book).

Here’s Professor Hess’ advice:

The U.S. economy is still in a deep funk, and for many small business owners that means business isn’t exactly booming. Forced to do more with much less, the small businesses that have managed to survive and even thrive during these tough times have recognized one important factor: You can’t always compete on price, but you can compete on service. And the best thing about great customer service is that providing it doesn’t cost you an extra penny. When your competition is scrounging for customers, you have to hold yours close, and that starts with great customer service.

Today’s small business owners need to understand that cutting costs will not save their business.  Remember, customers are concerned about their own financial security. When they walk into a business, they need to feel cherished and special. They need to be ‘hugged’ by great customer service. Customers don’t expect to get bottom-of-the-barrel prices everywhere they go, but they do expect to be treated with respect.”

Great customer service doesn’t just happen. It starts with employees who have been trained in the science of service.

Your employees will treat your customers as they have been treated by their leaders. Treat employees in a respectful, caring manner, and that will be transferred to customers. The business research done at Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, and my research at Darden Business School all finds that happy employees make for happy customers.

Many major companies, such as Southwest Airlines, UPS, Chick-fil-A, Best Buy, Yum! Brands, Room & Board, Starbucks, Ritz-Carlton, Levy Restaurants, Costco, Zappos, and Whole Foods, understand the importance of great employee relations. In the Best Buy culture, for example, customers are “kings and queens,” employees are “royalty,” and managers and leaders are “servant leaders” serving employees and customers. At Ritz-Carlton, employees are “Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

Today, not every business is getting customer service right, but not every business is getting it wrong, either. Fortunately, for any small business owner looking to improve his customer service, valuable lessons can be learned from both the good and the bad. Hess provides examples from his own experience and teaches what can be learned from the good and bad sides of customer service.

Learning from the “Bad”: ‚Ä®Remember, disgruntled customers won’t complain; they just won’t come back. If you don’t give your customers the courtesy of taking the time to provide them with excellent service, they are not going to take the time to tell you how to improve your business. Remember, too, that in addition to not coming back to your business, unhappy customers will likely tell others about their bad experience. The ripple effect of just one bad customer service experience can be very damaging. Be sure your employees are providing consistently great customer service.”

Provide special training for frontline employees. The employees who interact directly with customers are essential for your business. “Their attitudes, communication skills, and style of service are what your customers are going to associate with your business. Make sure your employees are trained to handle the potentially stressful task of working with customers.

Compensate for mistakes. Never, ever shortchange your customers. If a mistake was made or some other circumstance is preventing you from providing the best level of customer service, find a way to make it up to your customer.

Provide solutions. Never make your business’s problem or an employee’s problem your customer’s problem. Allow your employees to have the latitude to provide your customers with solutions when they can’t satisfy a need.

Learning from the “Good”: Happy employees = Happy customers. Again, employee satisfaction translates to great customer service. Employees should cares about the company where they work. Creating that feeling in your employees will pay you back exponentially.

Always respond quickly. Your customers are busy. They have big concerns of their own. They don’t deserve to be left wondering what kind of service they are going to receive or when they are going to receive it. Even if it’s just a message to say, ‘I am looking into this for you,’ the customer will appreciate being told where they are in the process.

Make it easy to do business with you. Never make your customers jump through hoops to do business with you. Have a return policy that is easy to understand and that puts the interests of the customer first. Provide refunds quickly and efficiently.

Keep customers informed of what’s happening. When customers know what’s happening with their order, it reduces their anxiety. And when they’re less anxious, they enjoy doing business with you. Keep customers informed online. For example, instead of just leaving the counter area, you might explain to a customer, “I am going to check to see if we have what you need in our stock room.” Or if you’re handling a return and typing information into a computer, you might explain to the customer, “I’m just entering the date of purchase and the product number so that we can make sure we give you the maximum refund possible.”

Use technology to provide quick, efficient customer service. It’s the twenty-first century, and email provides us with the means to provide service more quickly than ever before. Small business owners might sometimes make the assumption that customers don’t like to be communicated with online, and for some older customers that might be the case. But by and large, I think people appreciate the ease that online communication provide. As long as you make sure your messaging is detailed and easy to understand, your customers will appreciate the quick service these technologies provide.

Make your customers feel valued. Understand that each and every one of your customers is special. As the late business guru Peter Drucker said: The sole purpose of business is to serve customers. Make sure your employees understand this, and that above all else they must focus on making your customers feel valued and appreciated. There is never a bad time to throw in a special perk for a customer, to shake a customer’s hand, or to provide a metaphorical hug with great customer service.

Today’s small business owners must understand that their business is not about ‘me’; it’s about ‘them’: your employees and customers. Making cuts to employee perks or customer service perks is not a long-term plan for survival. It might buy you the opportunity to stay in the game a little bit longer, but it won’t make you a winner. In today’s economy, you have to do everything you can to hang on to your customers and to encourage them to keep coming back to your business. There’s no better way to do that than through consistently great customer service.

You might not always be able to slash your prices lower than those of your competitors,” he concludes. “But you can make the experience of doing business with you superior to all others. Never be afraid to take your customer service up a notch!

About the Author
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John Kilroy is the Publisher of Performance Racing Industry magazine.
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