Large companies and groups are generally able to offer lower prices due to economies of scale. SMEs can, and should, play the customer service card. Follow these tips to give your customers the royal treatment.

Customer service is a phrase so well worn that it has almost become meaningless. Every second business on the planet promises it, but very few get it right.  So what constitutes excellent customer service? Adhere to these principles and you’ll be off to a good start.

  1. Know who’s boss. You are in business to service customer needs, and you can only do that if you know what your customers want. When you truly listen to them, you will quickly learn what they are looking for and how you can provide good service. Never forget that the customer pays your salary.
  2. Be a good listener. Take the time to identify customers’ needs by asking questions and concentrating on what they are really saying. Listen to their words and tone of voice, take note of their body language, and most importantly, of how they feel. Beware of making assumptions.
  3. Anticipate needs. Customers don’t buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. Most of their needs are emotional rather than logical, so the better you know your customers, the better you are at anticipating what they want. Communicate regularly so that you know what’s going on in their minds.
  4. Appreciate the power of “Yes”. Always look for ways to help your customers. When they have a request (as long as it is reasonable) tell them that you can do it. Figure out how afterwards. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy. Always do what you say you are going to do.
  5. Know how to apologise. When something goes wrong, apologise. It’s easy and customers like it. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done. Make it simple for customers to complain. Value their complaints. As much as we dislike them, they give us an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable.
  6. Give more than expected. Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate yourself above the competition. Ask yourself: what can you give customers that they cannot get elsewhere? What can you do to follow-up and thank people? What can you give customers that is totally unexpected?
  7. Get regular feedback. Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you could improve. Consider providing feedback cards or sending a follow-up email to invite constructive criticism, comments and suggestions.
  8. Treat employees well. Employees are your internal customers and need a regular dose of appreciation. Let them know how important they are. Treat them with respect and they are more likely to have a higher regard for customers. Remember that appreciation stems from the top. Treating customers and employees well is equally important.
  9. Think alike. Make sure your employees understand, share and live your customer service philosophy. Help them to understand how far they can and should go to exceed customer expectations. Most importantly, empower your employees to deal with guest complaints. Nothing frustrates a guest more than a helpless (and unhelpful) employee.

Top customer service tips
Be your own customer. Stay in one of your guest rooms for a night or two. Call your office to make an enquiry.

Use your own website to search for information or make a booking. Either do this yourself or ask someone whose feedback you can count on to test drive your customer service.

Ask the employees who interact with your guests every day for their tips on how to improve customer service.

Make 100% sure that all the basics are in place before adding “frills”. The fancy bed linen won’t matter to the business traveller if there is no DSTV in the room or a well-lit mirror over the dressing table.

Apply self-imposed penalties. For example, if a guest’s complaint about the state of the room is justified, let him or her stay for free.

Treat customers as individuals. Always use their names and find ways to generate good feelings about doing business with you.
10 things that make customers happy

  • Problem solved
  • Effort
  • Acknowledgement and understanding
  • Choices and options
  • Positive surprises
  • Consistency, reliability and predictability
  • Value (not necessarily best price)
  • Reasonable simplicity
  • Speed
  • Confidentiality

They hate me! What now?
Negative feedback is a fact of life. How you respond to it can set you apart from the competition:

  • Avoid a defensive attitude at all costs. Establishments often get into long-winded arguments with guests in an attempt to correct a guest’s perception of the situation. This only frustrates the guest and invariably makes matters worse.
  • Offering a sincere apology for a guest’s disappointment will neutralise his or her frustration, and present an opportunity to rebuild trust in your services and create customer loyalty.
  • It is always best to ask the guest to explain the problem in detail. Listen carefully and completely to his or her concerns. This will help to pinpoint which service levels are below the expected standard.
  • Tell the guest what you are going to do to rectify the situation. If the complaint is justified, be ready to offer compensation (this must be in line with guest’s needs and expectations). Make sure you have a policy in place for dealing with complaints.
  • Finally, let your guest know when the problem has been fixed and thank them for having brought it to your attention.

Whether your business has been running for 10 months or 10 years, negative feedback is an opportunity to review your service performance, improve quality of service levels and/or facilities and build customer loyalty.

The 80/20 rule
Most business owners are familiar with the 80/20 rule, which suggests that 80% of possible business activities tend to come from only 20% of the effect put into it. In other words, you will get a stronger return on your marketing investment if you focus your attention on your top customers. Here’s how:

  • Identify and characterise your key customers. Get to know their details, preferences and purchasing history.
  • Target your marketing messages to these customers’ specific needs, and tailor your products and services to do the same.
  • Reward customers for giving you their time and attention.

In technical terms, this means creating a customer database that includes sales, marketing, customer service and billing information, and which you and your staff can conveniently access, monitor and update.

Small Business Forum

The Small Business Forum is an independent network of entrpreneurs and small business owners established to encourage and support the creation, growth and development of small business in South Africa.

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