In a small business the owner often does both sales and customer service. This is a big advantage over larger businesses (think car dealerships) where the sales team and the customer service team are separate organizations. Larger businesses often fail to recognize that how they run their customer service and the feelings their customers have about customer service dictate whether they will get repeat business just as much as their ongoing marketing does.
It's not hard to come up with examples where customers who were sold products or services were happy until there was a problem.
- Customer service that is handled off-shore (most people hate this)
- Customer service that has long wait times
- Customer service where you cannot easily reach a human being
In a smaller business, though, you either do both functions yourself or you are close enough to both functions to recognize the effect one has upon the other. This is a strong competitive advantage over larger companies where, over time, two competing empires develop. I encourage my clients to consider what they do in customer service every bit as important to future sales (both repeat customers and new) as what they do in marketing and advertising. In fact, I like to see customer service goals mentioned in the marketing plan.
Here's a story that illustrates a customer service fail that led to a same-day loss of a sale. My husband and I went to get my (older) vehicle serviced. While we were at the dealer we decided to look at new and pre-owned vehicles, thinking that we might buy a 3rd vehicle to leave at our Florida home. While the sales guy was very accommodating, the customer service guy was awful.
- He never made eye contact with us while we described the problem (too busy on his computer).
- He insisted that we go inside and let him “do a walk around of the vehicle” before he even asked us what was wrong (we felt like he was just looking for more things to fix).
- He sent an e-mail to us detailing the repairs and costs even though we were still actually at the dealership.
- He attempted to up-sell us 3 repairs we did not even ask about.
- Once he realized we were looking at other vehicles he assumed we would trade and priced the repairs ridiculously high (thus encouraging us to trade, he thought).
- His personality was arrogant and unfriendly.
- When we questioned him as to the extremely high prices for repair he gave us a lecture that “owning a vehicle required continued investment.”
Our negative reaction to the customer service department at this dealership shot the sales guy we were talking to right in the foot. I was so irritated at the price of the repairs and the condescending attitude that I told the car salesman, “I love the vehicle you showed us, but I can't tolerate the idea of coming here for service and being charged these sky-high prices.” You should have seen the look on his face. He realized that the customer service guy had high-balled us trying to force us into a trade when we were not even looking to trade, and it had just ruined his potential sale.
In your own business, do you have customer service policies in place that are supporting your sales? I'd love to hear your ideas about this below. Remember that one peeved customer tells an average of 11 people. Satisfied customers tell an average of 4 people. That's not great odds, is it?