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101 Ways to Really Satisfy Your Customers
By Andrew Griffiths
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2006 Andrew Griffiths
All rights reserved.
Understanding your customers
Customers are the one constant that all businesses need. This may sound blatantly obvious and it is, but one of the most common customer service complaints is that businesses don't listen to their customers.
We all need to take the time and energy to listen to what our customers have to say. We have to look for ways to make our customers feel comfortable, and to tell us their opinions on what we do well and which aspects of our business we need to improve. This first section of 101 Ways to Really Satisfy Your Customers looks at ways of finding out what your customers expect from you, what they like and dislike about your business, and how to use these opinions to improve your overall level of customer service.
#1 Always put yourself in your customers' shoes
#2 What do your customers expect from you?
#3 Hire a mystery shopper to evaluate your business
#4 Observe your business objectively
#5 Take the time to talk to your customers
#6 Encourage your customers to give you their opinions
#7 If you ask for opinions, be prepared to listen to them
#8 Start a customer satisfaction survey immediately
1 Always put yourself in your customers' shoes
To be really committed to customer service, you need continually to put yourself in your customers' shoes. This simply means that you need to look at every aspect of your business from your customers' point of view. It can be easy to slip out of the habit of doing this and to revert back to an 'us and them' mentality.
Whenever you are making a key business decision that could affect your customers, stop what you are doing and think about all the possible ramifications. Write down the possibilities, both negative and positive, and then make your decision.
We all need to make difficult decisions in business from time to time; however, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. Simply putting up your prices with little or no explanation to your customers is a good way of upsetting them. Taking some time to explain that your prices will be going up and why the price rise is necessary will help to defuse the situation.
Start looking at everything that your business does as if you were a customer. You'll be surprised by how enlightening this can be.
2 What do your customers expect from you?
I have mentioned that the best way to ensure high levels of customer satisfaction among your customers is to know exactly what they expect from you and to ensure that you meet those expectations and, where possible, exceed them. This leads us to the point of finding out what it is that your customers expect from you.
The best way to find out what your customers' expectations are is to ask them. I believe that a simple flick-and-tick survey form can give you a lot of information. You want to know how important certain issues are to your customers, and from this you can fully understand their expectations. Your survey should ask your customers to rate the following items from very important to not important. (A complete customer expectations form can be found in the Appendix at the back of this book.)
The more surveys you carry out, the more accurate the information will be. Clearly, you will need to tailor the questions to suit your particular business.
After your customers have completed a survey of this kind, you will develop a very clear picture of what aspects of your business they find important. This information can determine how you run your business and stop you making changes that could jeopardise your customers' satisfaction.
A good question to put at the bottom of the survey is: 'Do you have enough confidence in our business to recommend it to your family and friends?'
When asking customers to fill out a questionnaire of this sort, give them a little privacy and a place to do the paperwork. To ensure that it is confidential, have a box for responses (like a voting box) that they can slip the completed form into without having to hand it to a member of staff, as this can make some people feel uncomfortable. I also believe that it's a nice touch to give customers a small gift, such as a chocolate, as a way of thanking them for taking the time to fill in the form.
Customer expectations surveys can also be conducted on a website. I have found that fewer responses are obtained in this way than if you actually give someone a form while they are at your business premises. To increase the response rate, you could offer a gift or an incentive of some kind, but you then run the risk of people not being honest in their responses to the survey as they may feel that any criticism of the business will jeopardise their chances of receiving a gift.
The responses will identify exactly what your customers feel is important to them. Now that you know their expectations, you can do your utmost to ensure that you meet them.
3 Hire a mystery shopper to evaluate your business
As marketing consultants, we do a lot of mystery shopper surveys. A mystery shopper survey can take one of two forms. The first is where you employ a company to perform a mystery shopper evaluation on your business, and the second is when the mystery shopper is employed to do an evaluation on your competitors' businesses. Sometimes the two are combined.
By doing a mystery shopper survey on your own business, you can gain a clear and objective overview of the areas where your business performs well and the areas that could be improved. Normally a mystery shopper survey starts with a telephone enquiry and is followed up with a visit to the actual business. The information collected can pinpoint problem areas immediately. It's the old adage of having a fresh pair of eyes looking at a business. We conduct hundreds of mystery shopper evaluations every year and they have proven to be an invaluable marketing tool for the companies that have had them done.
Generally they sign up to have the surveys done on a regular basis, normally every three months, to check if problem areas are being corrected and to ensure that other areas that have surveyed well in the past are maintaining their standards. Restaurants, in particular, benefit from these kinds of surveys, but they are in no way the only kind of business to use mystery shoppers.
When using a mystery shopper survey to evaluate your competitors' businesses, the objective is to identify areas where they are weak and your business is strong. The end result is that you can focus your marketing on your own strengths, knowing that this particular aspect of your business is more appealing to potential customers.
There are lots of companies that conduct mystery shopper surveys. As always, the Yellow Pages is the best place to find a few company names to get you started. If you have limited funds and would prefer to get a friend to do the surveys for you, it is important to ensure that they compare oranges with oranges. When doing a mystery shopper survey, the surveyor needs to be 100 per cent objective or it will just be a waste of time.
If you are going to go to the effort and expense of doing a mystery shopper survey, you need to be open to the responses. It isn't the surveyor's fault if your business hasn't performed well, but it's a great opportunity to do something very positive.
4 Observe your business objectively
It can be difficult to be detached from your business and to look at it from an outsider's point of view. If you have owned and operated your business for a while, you are more than likely very passionate about it. You may be so busy doing what you do, that you can forget to take a few minutes out to be an observer instead of an active participant in all of the activities that take place on a day-to-day basis.
I have a friend who owns and operates two very successful restaurants. He often likes to dine at his own restaurants so that he can listen to what people say about the food and service. He doesn't eavesdrop, but he observes how the customers react when they are first seated, when their orders are taken and when the food is delivered. Of course, the staff know that he is there so maybe the service is a little sharper, but he does pick up a lot of comments that he can then act upon during staff meetings.
Take the time occasionally to be a fly on the wall. Sitting out the front of your business for a few minutes and watching what customers do may give you a few ideas on how to make the business more attractive. Wandering through your business with no intention other than to look around and observe can be very beneficial. Listening to the interactions between customers and staff, listening to what customers are saying about the business in general, and chatting to suppliers making deliveries can all provide excellent information that can be used to improve your business's overall level of customer service.
Observation is a powerful tool that is often forgotten in the clutter of day-to-day activity.
5 Take the time to talk to your customers
As a business owner and operator, it's very easy to spend your time in the back office rather than standing out front talking to your customers. People love to talk to the owner of a business — it's a mark of respect for you and for them.
No matter how busy you are, always take the time to talk to your customers. Ask them how they are finding dealing with your business. Get to know them and why they use your business. A few minutes' conversation with your customers can give you a lot of information. I find that if I stop and have a chat with my clients, I get to know them better and that strengthens our relationship, but it also inevitably leads to new business. Perhaps they were talking to someone who needs some marketing advice. Maybe I should give them a call ...
When the owner of the business is too busy to talk to the people who pay the bills, there is a problem looming. It is important to remember that without customers, there is no business. I recommend that, occasionally during your working day, you stop what you are doing and take a few minutes to talk to your customers.
6 Encourage your customers to give you their opinions
We all need feedback from our customers. We need to know that we are giving them what they want and if there are any problems brewing. Every business should encourage its customers to give their opinions on their experiences.
The reality is that unhappy customers rarely take the time to complain about a problem. Instead, they simply don't come back. The challenge is to identify any problems before you lose them. Likewise, if there are things that you are doing that are succeeding in pleasing your customers, you need to know about them so that you can reward your staff and acknowledge their service, and thus ensure that they keep happening. So, how do you encourage your customers to give you feedback?
Here are some of the most effective ways to get feedback from your customers:
Ask them — walk up to your customers, introduce yourself and ask them what they think about your business.
Have a suggestion box — with a big sign and some pens and paper. Encourage people to write down their suggestions and ideas and to place them in the box.
Have a questionnaire on your website — if your customers are likely to use your website, have a simple questionnaire on the site that can be filled in quickly and the response emailed directly to your business.
Do a follow-up call after a sale is made.
Send your customers a customer satisfaction questionnaire.
Some of these ideas are discussed in more detail in other parts of this book. The main message here is that it is very important to get feedback from your customers, and you need to ensure that this is made easy and non-confrontational for them. When doing any kind of survey, it's important that you give your customers the opportunity to remain anonymous.
You want honest answers, not just polite compliments. By asking your customers for their opinions, it shows that you value what they have to say and that will help to strengthen your relationship.
7 If you ask for opinions, be prepared to listen to them
If you are going to ask your customers for feedback on your business, you need to be able to review the information objectively, openly and, most importantly, be willing to act on it.
I have worked on a number of market research campaigns for businesses that wanted to gauge their customers' perceptions of their business. The results that came back were less than complimentary and, in some cases, downright terrible. When I reported on the findings, the business owner found every excuse in the world to justify the poor levels of service. Statements like 'Our customers are too demanding' or 'We are too busy to pander to every customer's needs' and, one of my favourites, 'If they don't like our service they should go somewhere else'. Generally, they do.
Very often businesses embark on the road to improving their level of customer service only to find it too confronting. They take negative customer feedback as a personal insult instead of a perfect opportunity to rectify problems that they may not have known existed. One way to avoid this is to have a plan in place that outlines what will be done with the information collected. This can prepare the business for the possibility of negative feedback, but rather than giving up in despair they will make changes according to the plan and work towards the desired outcome.
Often customers will want to know how the information they provide will be used. From my own experience, letting customers know that their responses will be used to improve the level of service encourages them to participate and makes them feel good because their opinions are considered important (which of course they are).
Every time someone gives you feedback that is less than positive, stop and think about how this individual is helping your business. Thank them for their honesty. Take their advice on board. If you have difficulty doing this because you are too close to the situation, get help from someone who can step in and resolve any customer satisfaction issues that your business may have.
I spend a lot of time going into businesses looking for ways to improve their overall level of customer service. When I meet proactive business owners and managers who are open to and very accepting of customer feedback, I always breathe a long sigh of relief. These people are smart and I know that their business will benefit enormously from their customers' feedback. Their willingness to take this feedback seriously and to act on it to improve the level of service they offer is a one-way ticket to profitability and complete customer satisfaction.
8 Start a customer satisfaction survey immediately
In the Appendix at the back of this book is a basic customer satisfaction survey. This can be copied and adapted to suit your business. I strongly recommend that if you don't already use a form like this, you start straight away. The idea of a customer satisfaction survey is to try and find out how your customers perceive your business and the service that you offer.
A customer satisfaction survey shouldn't be too long. Ten questions are more than adequate. Keep the questions simple and apply a grading system that is easy for you to use. Some businesses simply use 'Excellent' to 'Poor' in the response boxes; others prefer a numbering system. It's up to you. The technicalities of market research mechanisms aren't the issue here; what's important is how your customers feel about your level of customer service. If you give out 50 forms and 40 come back all saying that your service stinks, you might just have a problem.
Print the form so that it looks professional, and make it easy for people to fill in and return to you. I would suggest that you only print a small number of surveys at first because there will almost always be changes to the questions asked, which can be a problem if you have 10 000 printed surveys sitting under the counter.
If you are out and about and you see other companies' customer satisfaction surveys, grab a copy and compare their questions to the ones that you ask. Look for ways to improve the questions that you ask. I have a box full of survey forms from around the world that I use whenever I am planning a survey for my clients. Simple wording changes can have a big impact on the number of survey responses and the accuracy of the information collected.
With the advent of the Internet, customer satisfaction surveys can now be done online; and while the response rate is quite low, it does provide an extra source of customer feedback.
I always like to sit down with clients at the end of a project to have a debriefing. This is a face-to-face customer service survey, where we ask them to give us their perception of how the project went — both the good and the bad. This gives us the opportunity to address immediately any areas that the client isn't happy with, and it provides first-hand feedback on what the client liked about dealing with us. This is also an excellent relationship-building exercise. Our closing question is always 'Can we do business together in the future?' and the response is always 'Yes'.
Excerpted from 101 Ways to Really Satisfy Your Customers by Andrew Griffiths. Copyright © 2006 Andrew Griffiths. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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