By Professor Steven van Belleghem, below
As a small business owner, you no doubt understand the importance of your customers. Chances are you are busy helping customers every day, and making customers happy is one of the most rewarding aspects of running your business, right?
After you have been running your business for a while, serving customers becomes routine. You are asked the same questions by customers every day, you know how to respond and what not to say. But what happens when your team grows, and you’re not the only person dealing with customers? The small businesses that offer a customer experience that truly stands out from the crowd are those that not only have a good product or service, but also have a culture of going the extra mile for customers – and that comes from your leadership.
Here are 10 simple, low-cost tips you can try:
- Ask each employee for one idea to help customers better. Then give them the responsibility to implement their own idea. Your job as a leader is to make them succeed in that project and celebrate the success.
- When you communicate with customers, always make it a positive message. Even if it is bad news, make sure there is a positive action attached to it. The harsh reality is your customers have no interest in your problems, but think about their problems and how you can solve them.
- Don’t be afraid to give your customers a compliment, or even a gift. By sending a spontaneous gift when something nice has happened in their lives, or just a handwritten cards, you will create strong, human connection with them. Even something as small as a personal note along with your invoice can make a difference.
- Identify the social issues that suit your company and formulate a positive opinion about them. Where relevant, you can then share that opinion, not to seek polarisation, but to contribute positively. If you support charities, find a focus in that so you can also make it a positive, simple story customers and employees alike can connect with.
- Believe in the 95%-5% rule. It is very easy for the 5% of customers who are difficult to dominate your thinking and cloud your judgement, but don’t let that minority ruin the experience of the other 95%. Make decisions for the 95% of ‘normal’ customers who are not abusing loopholes in your system.
- Trust your team. As a small business owner it is easy to fall into the trap of micro-managing, but give your team the tools to make customers happy and empower them to choose what is in the customer’s best interest. Often the person working in the store or answering the phone is much closer to the customer than you, and may know better what works and what doesn’t.
- If someone has done something exceptional to help a customer, put that employee in the spotlight. Celebrating this success will soon create a culture throughout the rest of your team. You can start every meeting with a positive message from a customer, and compliment staff on how they handled different situations.
- Have every employee interact with real customers once every six months. Face-to-Face. This could be the person in the office doing accounts – or even you – but if you can organise as much valuable (not just sales) face-to-face customer contact through events, workshops or pop up stores as possible, you will improve your ability to understand what your customers really like or dislike.
- Make a list of the most common customer questions. Do they struggle to use your product in a particular way? Do they often phone to check something about the service you offer? Take some time to create simple videos or articles answering those specific questions. This not only increases efficiency for the customer, but also reduces the workload of your team who have to deal with customer queries.
- Ensure the psychological safety in your team. If something goes wrong, it can be very easy for people to start blaming each other. Instead, encourage a culture of just dealing with the problem quickly in a very analytical way, learn what went wrong and take positive steps to avoid it happening again. It is ok to normalise dealing with mistakes. At Toyota, even on successful projects they hold a ‘hansei-kai’ (reflection meeting) to look at what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. This way, you create a very open culture where mistakes are not hidden away, but dealt with and you can easily do the same for your small business.
Prof. Steven van Belleghem is a world-leading expert in customer experience and best-selling author. His new book, A Diamond in the Rough, is out now. For more information go to www.stevenvanbelleghem.com