customer service

This week a service provider demonstrated to me how important I was to her and her business. Let me share the story.

I arrived for my appointment 20 minutes early and made myself comfortable on a bench outside her office suite. I could see through the glass wall that she had a full house. Three people were with her. I settled in to wait for my 2 p.m. appointment. I needed to be in and out quickly after our 30-minute appointment in order to get to my next appointment on time.

At 1:47 pm she stepped out of her office, greeted me, and explained her friend was just leaving and she was going to run out for a minute to get lunch for her children. I said “Sure no problem. I was early.” (FYI, there are numerous restaurants next to her office location including several with drive-thru’s and two that were literally next door and she could walk in for take out.

Soon my appointment time arrived and passed. Five minutes late. Ten minutes late. Fifteen minutes late. I got up to leave. There was no way to complete the appointment and still make my next appointment. As I reached the building exit, in comes my service provider. She stopped me and asked why I was leaving, and I responded that I had 30 minutes in my schedule for the appointment and had to leave in order to keep my commitment to a client. Her response was, “Well people need to be flexible when my kids are involved.” She gathered her children and proceeded to leave for the day. If I was her last appointment for the day, wouldn’t the logical thing to do to meet with me early, or to come back on time to keep the appointment? Even better, shouldn’t she have planned the day so that her children’s needs and her client’s expectations were both met?

A client of mine also shared her experience this week. My client needed some clothing altered. She asked for referrals from friends and her clients. One name came up more frequently than any other, so on her day off she arrived at the business at opening time 10 a.m. She waited … and waited. After 30 minutes she left a note on the door asking them to call her as soon as they got in (she confessed she thought it would be around 11 am at the latest). Hours later she received a call from this small business. They had just arrived (after 1 p.m.) and would be happy to help her. After all the rave reviews for the services of this small business, my client politely declined and said she was making other arrangements. She needed to know that the business she chose was reliable and would be open during their normal business hours.

What do these two examples have in common? The service providers demonstrated a lack of respect for customer time). Both service providers had great reputations for quality service, but they forgot an important element of that service – timeliness. In the first example, my personal experience with the provider, her past service quality could not outweigh the disregard for my time and keeping her commitment to an appointment.

In my client’s experience, she wouldn’t take the risk that a highly recommended business that failed to show up for the first contact would be reliable in the future. The bottom-line for businesses (figuratively and financially) is this: customers have other alternatives. If you demonstrate indifference, disrespect, and/or unreliability in the mechanics of your business, your customers and prospects will find another business or professional who values their time and patronage.

It is hard when business is slow to maintain the discipline of being in the office or store during business hours when there are no customers. It is a challenge to answer your phone with a smile on your face and voice, when the calls are few and don’t result in a sale.

No matter the state of your business – too busy or at a dead stop. Every call, every prospect, and every existing customer should feel welcomed, valued, and important. Some key elements of customer service include:

  • Be available during your hours of business operation
  • Communicate with clients and prospects through messages, signage, website, email and other means when you have to deviate from posted hours
  • Keep your business professional. While we all have family, health, and other issues that pop up. As much as possible keep them from impacting your interactions with customers. If you have to take your kids to work with you, be sure you have taught them what is appropriate to say and do in the workplace.

Perhaps the most important elements of customer service are to:

  1. See any situation through your customers’ perspective.
  2. Don’t have an attitude with the customer if they aren’t willing or able to adapt to your situation. When there are conflicts between your personal and professional life, it is up to you to adapt and adjust – not your customer.
  3. Don’t assume – the client can and will be flexible.

Every customer wants and should expect to be valued and treated with courtesy and respect. The customer is why we are in business and how we stay in business. You may think you are losing only a single customer, but realize that dissatisfied customers don’t refer to you, they also talk to friends and family, and your reputation for quality products and service can quickly change to “don’t do business with that person/business”.

Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC

Copyright ©2015 Lea A. Strickland, F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc.

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