Customer Experience and Small Business

It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to post an article and I now found myself compelled to get a posting published regarding some recent experiences. While I’ll never call out a business directly for poor customer service (aka, Customer Experience) I do hope that some day that these “businesses” realize the lost opportunities they had and that simple little activities could have made them a more profitable (potentially).

The Interaction

As you were told by your parents and most likely educators from a very young age, a persons first impression of you is the most important interaction you may ever have with the customer. Making me (the customer) feel as if I’m doing you (the merchant) a favor, is an immediate turn-off. The customer may have done some research to find you, in hopes that their needs will be met by the services you offer. They come to you with anxiety and trepidation (based on the unknown), you are unfamiliar to them…will they get their needs met with satisfaction? Will they need to follow-up to get status, or satisfaction after the transaction? Are you meeting their needs at a fair “price” and / or duration? At this point in the interaction, the merchant has a fairly simple role at this point…LISTEN to the customer. Analyze the interaction as it happens, is the customer knowledgable in the service being requested, do they appear to require additional attention than your typical customer, what are they specifically looking for…like price or speed in meeting their needs. Give your customer as much time as they need to mitigate their uncertainty. Remember, they came to you and not the reverse, the funds remain in their wallet until they choose to release them in your direction.

The Communication

At this point the merchant is, or has been listening to the customer, building the relationship, reducing anxiety and perhaps creating a bond that will continue beyond this first interaction. Perhaps they have remembered to introduce each other and received proper names, they begin to use proper names in their dialog. It is more possible that a person will have a sense of familiarity when using proper names than labels. However, the more difficult part of this exercise is to remember names and important takeaways that happened during this dialog…take NOTES. The next time that George walks into your shop and you remember that they are new to the neighborhood and are originally from a town in New York that you grew-up in, will create a bond more valuable than the five percent off you gave as a first time customer. Another benefit is that a relationship that is based on names and recognition also provides a barrier to negative feedback anonymously. It’s much easier for a stranger to provide negative input on social media about an interaction, when they believe they are anonymous. However, if the customer is on a first name basis with the merchant, typically forgiveness and having a conversation in order to rectify the issue will happen more readily.

Transaction and Follow-up

The transaction is simple, did the merchant accomplish the request which was asked for, without surprises and with explanation of what has been done. Did the merchant provide regular status updates if the process was lengthy (this means being proactive and not having to be asked by the customer). Were deadlines met if one was given, if there was a potential delay, was this provided early and with explanation on why and with a new deadline. During the transaction, the customer must never be left wondering what is happening – over communication is better than no communication, nine times out of ten.

One of the most important stages of the process is the follow-up with the customer and unfortunately this is often disregarded. A simple, call or note asking the customer if everything has met their expectations is often good enough. However, not doing this gives a perception to the customer that they are just a number and their business is not valuable, regardless of the financial investment. Avoid the blind survey, make it personable, understand what was done well and more importantly what could have been done better. This data is invaluable and will help the merchant understand what customers are expecting from their business.

The merchant should never get sloppy and bypass stages of a relationship with new or existing customers, just because they think it’s a burden. Even one missed stage in the process, or even a poorly executed one could send that customer to the competitor and they will be none-the-wiser as to why their business is struggling