Keep Your Customers Coming Back

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.
Original Publication Exchange Magazine

How to maintain happy customers.

We often see lists of things that supposedly make or break businesses. These are usually presented as a sort of magic formula that, if applied correctly, will guarantee success, wealth, and happiness for any business owner. Of course, it really isn't as easy as all this, but there are a few simple concepts that you can apply that will make a significant difference to your bottom line. In addition, you and your staff will get more enjoyment from the job itself. Sounds like magic, doesn't it?

What I'm talking about here is how to provide superior customer service--the kind that builds good relationships, leads to repeat business, and demonstrates your values, ethics, and integrity. There is really nothing complicated about it; in fact, it's so easy to understand, I don't even know how to make it sound complex and difficult.

Let's look at what happens when you have a dissatisfied customer. According to a recent study by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, 96 percent of your unsatisfied customers never take the time to complain, but 90 percent of them will never, ever buy from you again. This is bad enough, but it gets worse! Researchers have found that each customer you angered or left dissatisfied will tell at least nine other people about the shoddy treatment he or she received at your hands. What's even worse is that 13 percent of these unhappy people will tell their stories to more than 20 other people! None of these will ever darken your door either. So losing even one customer can represent a significant loss for your business.

Let's translate this into dollars and cents. Think about it this way. Suppose that one customer spends $1000 in your company in one year, if you keep that customer coming back to deal with you for ten years, he or she will have given you $10,000 in business. But what happens if you lose that customer? Not only will you lose the $10,000 in future business, but since he or she will complain to 20 other people who will never become your customers, you will have lost $10,000 times 20, or a total of $200,000 in future income. And all this from just one unhappy customer!

Assuming that I have convinced you that you cannot afford to alienate even one customer, what should you do to make sure this never happens? Here's where the answers get easy. Think about what you want from the people and organizations where you shop. If you are like the average customer, you want to shop in pleasant surroundings where the sales people are friendly, know their products or services, and make you feel good about doing business with them. In addition, you probably want high quality, reliability, prompt service, and personal attention before, during, and after the sale. That's all there is to it. Of course, making it actually happen and happen consistently does take some effort. This is where the business owner and senior staff enter the picture.

Attitudes always precede actions, and it's no different where customer service is concerned. The people at the top set the tone and the standards for what happens on the shop floor. The president of one firm we know tells his people that, when dealing with customers, they must do it right the first time, on time, and every time. Not only has he made sure that everyone knows his attitude, he has also trained his people in how to provide superior customer service and he is lavish with his praise when they do so. This firm started with a clear definition of its values, attitudes, and business ethics and then communicated this to all employees. Many firms do this by means of a Mission Statement, which becomes the standard against which all company actions are measured. Let me give you a couple of examples of statements in action.

Johnson & Johnson had a philosophy that one of their values was to provide their customers with high quality, safe, and dependable products. When they discovered that someone had poisoned their Tylenol tablets, there was no discussion about whether the product should or should not be removed from the shelves. The only discussion was about how soon it could be done.

The Mars candy bar company is another good example of ethics in action. They believe that there should be a mutually beneficial relationship between themselves and their suppliers. When a buyer reported that he had saved the company thousands of dollars by purchasing cocoa beans from a farmer who sold at a discount because he was in financial jeopardy, he was told to rewrite the contract and to raise the fee to the fair market price. Now that's ethical behavior.

How can you translate your ethics into action? The first step is to decide and then communicate what your business ethics actually are. A good way to do this is to engage in a strategic planning process.

Ask yourself, what business are we actually in! This may sound simpleminded, but some firms fail to realize the exact nature of what they do and whom they serve. The railways almost went out of business because they took a narrow-minded view. They said they were in the railroad business. They could have realized that they were in the transportation business, which included information as well as freight. In Canada, that realization led to a joining of the two national railways into a national and international telecommunications network.

Examine your business philosophies, values, and beliefs about people. These should be written down and distributed to your employees and customers. They should also be prominently displayed and used as the standards everyone must follow.

Next, you must teach your people how to deal with customers. This involves everyone in the firm. No matter who they are, when they talk to a customer, they are the company in the minds of the customer. This means the matter is far too important to be left to chance. Everyone must be trained in this important role. You can best accomplish this by having someone develop and present a customer training program for your firm or by sending your people to a public seminar on the topic.

Here are a few questions that you and your staff should answer about customer service.

Do I believe in this company and its products and services?
Do I really listen to customers who have a problem and try to understand what they want?
Do I empathize with customers who have a problem, a question, or a request?
Do I take action to solve customers' concerns, problems, or requests?
Do I accept the blame for any inconvenience or misunderstanding that is bothering the customer, no matter who caused it?
Do I make each customer feel important, wanted, and valued?
Do I recommend ways to improve customer service to the firm's decision makers?
Do I know my company's products or services so that I can provide or explain them to our customers?

Each of these questions must be answered in the affirmative if you hope to give your customers what they want.

Another suggestion: Remember to thank your customers for dealing with you. You can do this easily by means of a follow up contact or a thank-you letter. Many firms regularly have their customers rate the firm and its personnel on customer service. Any good management consultant can help you develop a useful survey If you want more help, visit your bookstore or library. There are all kinds of books on this important topic.

The rest is up to you. Companies stay in business because they provide good products and services and know how to treat their customers. When you can do all of these simultaneously, you can expect to be successful.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

Re-printable with permission.