As we continue to face the uncertainty of BREXIT and its economic consequences many businesses face the challenge of trying to stand out from the crowd and keep sales flowing. Working with many professional services businesses, as I do, I firmly believe there’s only one thing that will help them thrive in the future and that’s putting the client at the heart of everything that they do and differentiating on ‘how’ they service clients rather than the services they offer. We’re back to good old customer service, delighting and exceeding expectations – but let’s get real. What does that really mean?
What is customer service all about?
I’m not claiming this is a comprehensive list, I’m sure there are customer service gurus out there who would have more to add, but in my experience working with businesses I’ve bottled it down to these simple tips:
Create clear expectations
From what you promise on your website, to how you contract with clients be clear about what they can expect from you, as well as what they need to do to get the best from your service. If you analyse dissatisfied clients or clients that defect you can often boil the source of their satisfaction down to a failure to set clear expectations at the outset.
Be aware that you set expectations from your first contact with a prospective client. So, if you respond to their initial enquiry at the speed of light they may well expect a similar velocity once they’ve become a fee paying client. Not an unreasonable expectation actually.
Meet your promises
Clients frequently bemoan the fact that their solicitor doesn’t return their calls or their accountant takes weeks to respond to an email. Aside from the fact that these clearly aren’t great levels of client service the dissatisfaction could be resolved by setting and keeping to a clear set of service standards:
* Calls returned within 24 hours or 48 hours
* Emails acknowledged with a commitment of exactly when a detailed response will be provided
* Update calls or emails when there’s a danger of missing one of these promises
Clients will forgive you if you keep them informed, what they hate is silence or worse still a sense that you are occupied on some other ‘more important’ matter.
If you are in the habit of responding to sales enquiries quickly but then fail when it comes to service delivery you may need to rethink your approach. Respond in a timely fashion, yes, but make sure you have systems in place to ensure your service delivery meets similar turnaround times. Or at the very least tell your clients what your turn-around times will be, and then stick to them.
Never, and I mean never, promise to do something asap!
These four little words, as soon as possible, create so much angst between clients and professionals I think they should be banned!
You need to be clear in agreeing turn-around times, and often this doesn’t need to be as quickly as you might think. I’ve worked with professionals who have assumed that every client wants an answer by return of email. That’s not always true.
It’s always helpful to ask their deadlines and if necessary explain the constraints. Yes, we’ve all had clients with unreasonable expectations, but most clients will be understanding – what they want to know is when you will get around to dealing with their request or issue, and when they can expect a reply.
To me asap means immediately, within the next hour, or next day. To the person saying it it might mean, ‘when I’ve finished this big case’, ‘when I can fit you in’ or simply ‘get off my back, I haven’t got time to even think about you just now!’
In my experience asap is dangerous. Whilst it might be said with the best intentions it doesn’t create an action on the part of the person saying it. It’s so much better to say – ‘let me look at my diary or work plan and figure out when I can complete this task’. Diarise it and make sure you do the job when you said you would. Not only will the client get what they want but there’s an enormous sense of satisfaction in delivering on a promise.
Anticipate client needs
When we appoint a professional, we expect them to look out for us. So if I appoint an accountant I expect them to advise me of any financial, VAT or tax issues that might affect me or my business. That includes changes caused by the budget or new ideas for tax savings and so on.
When I appoint a financial advisor, I’d hope they would regularly review my situation and advise if I need to review my choices. So that assumes they will keep in touch with me and prompt me with reasons I might need to undertake a financial review.
I want them to show a real interest in me or my business. I would like them to really understand me, to be able to suggest ideas, products and services I might be interested in – that probably goes beyond their own discipline as well. I don’t want them to contact me only when they want to sell to me. By all means market relevant things– but show me you understand me, by demonstrating the benefits I will get.
As clients look to tighten up on expenditure, as they have a little more time or inclination to shop around, and as they hear from a multitude of social media how some firms do things so much better than others, your business could really benefit by looking after the clients you have. Set clear service expectations, meet your promises and anticipate and fulfil service needs and clients will show greater loyalty, be more likely to make recommendations and if you really get the anticipating needs part right they’ll spend more with you too.