The buck stops here -- or, better customer service

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Posted 4/25/17 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

The Crosby Area Chamber offered a customer service program last week, and it convicted me a little, requiring me to look at ways my own business sometimes falls short of the mark.
This is no indictment of my employees, but a reminder that even the boss could do better when it comes to serving our customers.
As a small-town business operator in two towns -- Tioga and Crosby -- not to mention president of the chamber in Crosby this year, I’m pretty attuned to efforts to capture local dollars for the services and products we provide, and, for sure, I’m a champion of shopping locally whenever possible.
I also realize, for most customers, price is pretty important. But it’s not the most important consideration, especially when something goes wrong.
It was only last week that, doing business in a larger town on an item I couldn’t get in Crosby, I had a poor experience -- wrong information, no sense of urgency and no apology. I had to demand the company make good, when any local business person would have bent over backward to make sure a botched order didn’t keep me from coming back.
We can do all the education we want about buying local, but we better be treating the customers we have like the valuable individuals they are, or we can’t expect their loyalty.
At The Journal, we’ve just completed our annual subscription drive -- the time of year when we come into contact with many people we have no communication with any other time of year.
The Tioga Tribune is just starting their own renewal process now, with most subscriptions expiring at the end of April.
Expecting people to renew their subscription, whether they’ve been with us for five years or 50, would be foolhardy if we don’t treat them with friendliness, promptness and humility.
As The Journal’s renewal cycle has wound down, we’re now starting to get the calls from a few people whose payments went awry and those who didn’t receive a renewal card.
It’s frustrating, both for me and them, if their renewal process didn’t go well. We value every single subscriber! The last thing we want is for them to have to contact us twice! If a third time is required, how could I blame them if they just give up?
At the customer service program, we talked about how, sometimes, just being more positive in our communication with customers goes a long way toward smoothing over the bad news that, somehow, we’ve let them down.
How many times, I asked myself, has a reader complained that they never received their renewal card? And how many times have I said, “I know the cards went out,” instead of, “I’m sorry you didn’t receive a card; let me get your renewal processed right away”?
It’s very easy to apologize, and it’s free! It doesn’t matter if we made a good faith effort to send out renewal cards. And it actually doesn’t even matter if the person received the card, or threw it away by accident, or simply forgot.
What matters is that this person on the other end of the phone line wants our paper bad enough they’re ready to pay for another year’s subscription.
No way do I want to make them feel as if it’s their fault their paper stopped showing up in their mailbox.
You can apply this lesson to your own business, I am sure.
Whatever the problem may be, when your customer presents you with it, it’s your job to solve the problem -- not make excuses, or, heaven forbid, make them feel like they’re at fault.
It’s probably just human nature that makes it difficult for most of us to say, “I’m sorry,” or to take responsibility, even if we feel like it’s the other guy’s fault.
Of course, we’ve all heard the saying, “The customer is always right.” But behind that saying are a million ways we can demonstrate how we value the people who do business with us.
It starts with a friendly greeting, prompt attention to our customer’s needs and being humble.
For myself, it means looking in the mirror and practicing saying, “I’m sorry,” followed by, “Let me help you with that right away.”