In the service business world, it can be easy to convince yourself it’s all about price. You have potential customers who end up going with whichever company quoted the lowest price and customers who abandon you when a Groupon pops up or an Amazon Prime day offers them a percentage off of Amazon Home Services. How can you compete and make a decent living when you’re being undercut on price left and right and that’s all customers seem to care about?
More? What do you mean more? I can’t afford to lose money on every job!
No, I’m not saying you should not charge for products or time, but there are some things you can do to add value for your customer that don’t cost you. Let’s look at some examples:
#1 Clean Up After Yourself
You may think it’s a given that service business crews and contractors clean up after themselves, but truthfully, it’s not. Simply by taking precautions to make sure your customer’s property and home stay clean throughout and that you leave no traces behind is a great way to add value without cutting into profits. It may take a little more time to put down drop cloths or vacuum up after a job, but it’s not going to take up your whole day. Just include a little buffer for cleanup in your appointment windows.
#2 Offer To Move Furniture
If you’re a house painter, a flooring guy, or you perform some other home service that may require the moving around of furniture, offer to do it for the customer if you’re physically capable of doing so. This can be an especially valuable service for the elderly and is just one way to make the job less stressful and less of a hassle for your customer.
#3 Go Ahead & Do Small Add-On Services That Don’t Take Much Time
Did your customer mention needing or wanting a small service performed sometime in the future? Offer to do it while you’re already there and have the products needed. If you’re a painter, this can be offering to go ahead and touch up baseboards while you’re in the home. If you’re a chimney sweep, this can be offering to go ahead and fix a damper that’s missing a pin. Offer to change out a light bulb that’s burned out or swap out an air filter. If you’re open minded and listen to your customer, you’ll likely find it easy to identify small ways you can add value and provide additional services without breaking the bank or wasting a lot of valuable time.
#4 Educate Your Customer
One thing you may take for granted as a service professional is your knowledge. You have years of experience and education in a field that most people know nothing about — sharing some of that knowledge can add value to your customer’s life. If you’re a chimney sweep, this may be educating your customer on the best tips for seasoning your wood or getting your fire started. If you’re a house painter, this may be letting your customer know that wiping down a painted wall (especially if it’s a darker color) can leave streaks if a wipeable paint is not used. If keeping their kids’ fingerprints off of their walls is something that’s important to them, recommend a paint product that’s made to be wiped down or washed. These small tips and suggestions can lead to happier customers, and all it takes is a little attention, listening, and sharing.
#5 Be On Time Or Call If You’re Going To Be Late
You might be amazed at how many service professionals are perpetually late and don’t take two seconds to call the next customer and let them know. Most customers will understand that things come up and schedules change, but if you don’t take the time to call and let your customer know you’re not going to make the agreed upon time, your customer will feel disrespected. Make every effort to be on time to each and every appointment — and when things don’t go according to plan, make the phone call, apologize, and let them know when they can expect you and that this isn’t the norm.
Value isn’t always about price, and the sooner you see the difference, the sooner your customers will. So get creative and look for ways to make your company the greatest value. Then, those cheaper options won’t even compare.
Every day, we encounter problems and hiccups that cause annoyance and stress. Even the most minute and trivial problem can decrease joy when repeated and multiplied – especially when you’re having “one of those days.”
Take your phone, for example. Have you ever had an app shut down on you while you were in the middle of doing something? What about the view flipping between landscape and portrait while you’re trying to show someone a photo you took? Or what about when you’re too fast for your unlock passcode and think your phone has registered four numbers when it’s only registered three? These are little, meaningless annoyances – #FirstWorldProblems in the grand scheme of things. But when you’re having a bad day, every one of these can be the “last straw.”
What if you could put a stop to all of those little annoyances? As small as they are, wouldn’t that make you just a tinge less stressed and more content? Of course it would. And the same goes for your customers. What may seem like a seemingly small problem or annoyance can compound into major frustration for your customers. And when you, as a company, are committed to pinpointing those little problems and hiccups in relation to your services and eliminating them for a more seamless and pleasant customer experience, you have the power to reduce the stress levels and boost the contentment levels of your customers. You have the power to create a more pleasant customer experience and keep the association positive and stress-free.
And in many cases, eliminating those little problems is easy. But you can’t eradicate what you can’t see – and you can’t see what you aren’t looking for. Are you looking? Here are a few tips to help you identify where you can eliminate little annoyances and make your customers’ experiences and lives just a little bit better…
Read into reviews and feedback. Feedback and reviews aren’t just for other customers – they’re for you! Really analyze what your customer liked about the experience and what they didn’t like about the experience. Sometimes the wording used and the things your customer chooses to mention or leave out can reveal so much. Pro tip: look for the big “but” in each review. What follows will usually let you know where the customer felt discomfort, stress, or disappointment.
Ask your customers, family, and friends. I know it’s crazy, but have you considered asking your customers and others in your life what little problems or hiccups in service reduced their overall satisfaction? Maybe they found it annoying that the service provider didn’t ask before using their restroom. Maybe it bothered them that no one mentioned the service charge when the appointment was made. These are things that, as the business owner, you may not think about. Asking those on the customer side of things can reveal what’s hidden to you, but obvious to the customer.
Hire your own company or another company to perform the service in your home. If you can be objective, take things a step further and actually spend some time in the customer’s shoes. Hire your own company or another company to come out and do a job in your home. The perk of hiring your own company is that you’ll get a true idea of what type of experience your customers are having, given that the techs really do treat you just like a normal customer. The perk of hiring another company is that you’ll see what they do better or worse than you, which may open your eyes to opportunities to improve and surpass their level of service.
Read the reviews of your competitors. So many business owners are obsessed with their competitors, but they don’t take the time to really use their competitors for their own growth. When you read your competitors’ reviews, you can see what their customers liked and disliked about their experience. Use that to better your business. After all, you don’t have to be the best, you just have to be better. So look for where your competitors are succeeding and failing and use that knowledge to improve your business and win over new customers.
You have a lot more power than you may think. So don’t just perform a service – improve your customers’ lives, every little way you can.
A brand message breakdown can have far-reaching negative effects on your company’s image, and can ultimately affect your company’s fate. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, Google…there are more soap boxes for dissatisfied customers to shout from than ever before. And because these platforms don’t have borders, messages can go further, faster. All it takes is one negative experience to change the perceptions of many.
Most of us have come to terms with this reality and know that businesses can’t afford to have an “off” day or even an “off” moment. There is no “on” or “off” time for service businesses in the Internet age. But should this level of speed and transparency really change anything? We’d argue no.
If you think about it, there’s never been a time when it was okay for service businesses to be inconsistent in their messages or service experience The only real difference is that now, we, the business owners, can very clearly see the messages our customers are putting out there regarding their experiences with us. And these messages can go much further and be seen by a lot more people.
These messages are heard by other customers and potential customers, and become part of our brand message, whether we like it or not. For many of us, just the thought of this is scarier than running out of TP in a public restroom.
But many business owners are so consumed by their fear of negative online reviews and comments that they shut down – they miss the treasure altogether and forget to ask the questions that really matter. Questions like:
Are certain people or behaviors in my company sending out the wrong messages and hurting my business? Where is my message breaking down and why? Do my employees know what our brand message is and how they’re expected to communicate it?
You see, it’s not that business owners got breaks or “had it good” in the pre-Internet age. It’s not that you should fear (or hate) the platforms that now give your customers a far-reaching voice. And it’s not that you should focus your efforts on trying to weed out the Negative Nancys that might leave your business a bad review.
Instead, you should focus on where, how, and why your brand’s message is breaking down, so you can work on making that message clearer and more consistent. When you do that, you’ll find that some of that fear around online reviews dissipates.
And as you do that, remember: Your brand message isn’t just coming from your marketing department these days, but from every post on your social accounts and every single employee that is a part of the customer experience. So, if you’re cringing at the messages your customers are receiving and the messages your customers are sharing about their experiences with your brand, zoom out and take a hard look at what’s really wrong.
All it Takes is One Inconsistency to Destroy Brand Trust & Skew Brand Message
I recently went to a new coffee shop in town to grab a Green Tea latte and get some work done. I was pretty excited when I walked in to find the place empty, with the exception of one employee. In fact, I texted my coworker several confetti emojis to express my joy.
Post-text, I placed my order, took a look around, and chose the perfect little table with the perfect lighting. As jazz music played softly, I opened up my laptop and prepared for a record-breaking productivity streak. But shortly after I started typing, the barista picked up her cell phone, prematurely ending my epic productivity streak.
She talked with her friend about every car her brother had ever had, when she had last taken the bus to work, how her mom had been nagging her to get her flu shot…yada, yada, yada. It completely ruined the atmosphere and made it impossible to focus. My hopes were dashed.
But, as a relatively easygoing person, I decided to give the barista the benefit of the doubt. I figured she would hang up any minute and restore the focus-friendly atmosphere that we’ve all come to love and expect in a coffee shop. Instead, she committed the cardinal sin: she talked about the customer and the job as an inconvenience…in front of the customer (me).
“There’s nobody here…just one person. It’s so slow…” “I told you, I’ll do that when I’m able. I have a customer and it’s a very small place.” “I still have hours to go and I just want to leave…”
Ok, now I just felt awkward. My patience had worn thin, so I packed up my stuff and headed to the door. As I left she said, “Have a nice night.”
Now, I know everyone thinks millennials are the worst and have no idea what professionalism looks like, but I’m here to defend at least some of us. I’ve had several jobs in the service industry and I would never have considered having a personal conversation in front of a customer. In fact, I would have lost my job if I pulled out my phone while working. But this millennial…she didn’t seem to have a problem completely decimating the line between professional and personal.
What was the difference between me (a millennial) and this girl (also a millennial)? I’d argue that one of us knew the brand message we were expected to communicate and how we were expected to communicate it, and the other didn’t (or didn’t respect it enough to follow through).
Well, who cares? I had one bad experience at a coffee shop that I otherwise loved. No harm done, right? Eh. Actually, that one bad experience forever tainted my view of the shop. It altered my perception of the brand and made me question the kind of customer experience I would have on my next visit.
I lost trust and confidence in the brand and the experience the brand provided. In other words: even though I had positive experiences with the brand in the past, the honeymoon was over.
The point is: Making sure some of your employees “get it” isn’t good enough. It’s important that every single one of your employees is crystal clear on expectations and brand message, because just one bad apple can end the honeymoon for your customers and decrease their trust in your company. Just one bad experience can communicate a totally different brand message than the one you had in mind.
Let me give you another quick example…
I was on the road recently and stopped in at a Sheetz to grab a water and use the bathroom. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that my 5-year-old twin nieces had just been left unattended in the women’s room for a solid half hour. The floor was covered in water and paper towels, and it looked like the trashcan was more of a suggestion than a requirement.
Now, as a girl who grew up with Wawa and not Sheetz, this one experience was responsible for shaping my expectations of the brand. And I was thinking, “Holly hell…Sheetz is gross.”
As I tiptoed to the sink avoiding what I could of this travesty, I saw it right at the heart of the disaster: A sign from the owner.
“We want you to be satisfied every time you visit Sheetz, so I personally promise the cleanliness of all Sheetz restrooms. If they’re not to your satisfaction, or if you feel there is room for improvement, please call me toll free at …”
Obviously, Mr. Sheetz had a clear vision for his brand message and standards. That message was even written out in his store’s bathrooms. But not everyone got the message or took it to heart.
Maybe there were checklists in place to ensure that the Sheetz bathroom never reached the disgusting level I witnessed, but if so, those checklists weren’t followed. It’s up to you, as the owner, to figure out what’s causing the breakdown so you can fix it.
3 Tips For Keeping Your Brand Message Crystal Clear & Consistent, Even When You Aren’t Around
Running a business is hard work (That’s an understatement). You may not be able to anticipate and prevent every brand message breakdown and customer service disaster. But there are some things you can do to help ensure that everyone in your company maintains professionalism and upholds your company values, culture, message, and customer service standards, even when you aren’t around.
Hire Right. The first step is to hire right. This is easier said than done, but if you take the time to do things right and really evaluate whether or not a candidate will make a great employee and be a good fit for your company culture and values, you’ll have employees that you can trust to uphold your brand message and maintain your expectations for professionalism and customer service — whether you’re in the room or not. Here’s a great article on how Southwest Airlines approaches hiring to ensure a clear brand message and consistent culture.
Clearly Communicate Your Brand Message Repeatedly. Does your team even know what brand message you’re trying to communicate? Do they know what qualities you value and what kind of company culture you’re trying to create and uphold? If this isn’t communicated clearly to your employees, how can they work with you to keep your brand message consistent and protect your company culture? Team meetings, SOPs, employee manuals, and company mission statements are just a few ways you can communicate this to your employees. Everyone should know what you stand for and why your company exists. With a clear vision and purpose in mind, it’s much easier to hit the mark.
Set Expectations & Lead Well. As a business owner, it’s important that you set expectations for your employees. For example, when I worked in the service industry, my employers made it very clear that I was expected to stay off of my cell phone for the entire length of my shift. When I was at work, our clients were my world. And because I knew what was expected of me and what types of behaviors were and weren’t acceptable, it didn’t matter if my bosses were around. I communicated the brand message they wanted me to communicate: that we were a professional company that was 100% focused on our customers, not on what was happening in our Instagram feeds. But you don’t have to get out the employee manual or make a long list of rules to communicate these expectations – you can lead by example. If you maintain professionalism and handle yourself appropriately at work, your employees should hear the message loud and clear and follow suit. Still, it’s always wise to clearly state expectations, so there’s no room for misunderstandings.
Don’t Wait For a Bad Experience – Crystalize Your Message Now
We all get a pit in our stomach when we see a nasty review online or have to face an outraged or disappointed customer. And hey, you can’t always avoid these things. But if you’re proactive and you take a long look at your company and staff now, you can find ways to make sure your brand message doesn’t break down or get altered by employees that don’t know what message you’re trying to communicate or understand (or care) what’s expected.
Ask yourself what could be done differently to ensure that your customers are receiving your brand message clearly and consistently. If you see areas that could use some improvement, don’t be afraid to make those changes. Your business, your customers (both existing and potential), and your employees will thank you for it!
So you’re waiting for that big business boom to send profits through the roof so you can start living the good life. Well, no matter what you’re doing marketing wise and SEO wise, if you’ve forgotten about customer service, you can kiss the good life goodbye, because that big boom is never going to come.
Think about it: you could have the best industry experts at your disposal, the best logo, the best website, and the best coupons and offers, but if you treat your customers poorly, what do they care about any of the rest of that stuff? The truth is: they don’t.
Here’s the one thing that can’t be ignored or denied: good customer service is key to customer loyalty and satisfaction. Whatever your industry or location, you client has more choices when it comes to deciding who to do business with than ever before. Why would they choose you if you offer a train-wreck experience?
Wait, it’s the 21st Century and We Have the Internet. Is Customer Service Still Important?
We’d argue that it’s more important than ever for that very reason.
As many as 90% of people claim to use the Internet to research local businesses and determine who to hire or purchase from. And they aren’t just reading your website – they’re reading what others are saying about you. Depending on your level of customer service and the overall experience you offer, this can be a good thing or a bad thing.
When your customers have a great or horrid experience with you, guess what they’re going to do because it’s the 21st Century and we have the Internet? They’re going to Tweet about it, Yelp about it, update their Facebook status about it, or leave you a Google review. And you can bet that they’ll have a greater reach than you do.
If you really want to see your business thrive and boost profits, it’s time to take a good hard look at the customer experience you’re providing.
According to Bain & Company, the way that you treat your customers is even more important than the product or service you are providing them with:
A customer is 4 times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related than price- or product-related. [Source: www.beyondphilosophy.com]
That’s right: customer service is even more important than the price and the product. Your customers are valuable, but when they receive bad customer service, they certainly don’t feel that way. And if they feel under-appreciated and like you don’t care about their satisfaction, they WILL take their business to someone who does care. But not before letting everyone else know about their experience.
What’s Good Customer Service Look Like?
People try to complicate things, but good customer service is as simple as following the golden rule – treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Make sure that each and every one of your customers knows just how much you value them, because without them, you have no business. In other words, Mom was right – it does pay to be nice. Here are some more tips to help you meet client expectations and gain more and more happy, loyal customers:
#1 Provide quick and helpful service
Even the most patient among us wants access to help when we need it. Now obviously you may not have the funds or the staff to provide 24 hour support, but the quicker you can respond to customer inquiries, the less likely that customer is to go to another company that offers the same product or services.
We’ve seen customers rant on Yelp and other review sites and give businesses a 1-star rating, without ever actually doing business with them. Why? Because they contacted customer service, fell through the cracks, and felt like they were ignored. Whether it was intentional or not, that’s business lost, and others will read that review or at least see the effect of it on the overall business rating.
Now, speed shouldn’t be a trade-off for usefulness. If you can’t provide effective and helpful support right away, wait until you can! You can always send an email letting the customer know that you’re working to quickly get the information needed to support them and that you will be contacting them shortly with a solution.
#2 Be where your customers are
We all have different lives, different schedules, and different preferences for receiving help. Why only offer your customers one way?
Do you know how your customers prefer to be helped? By offering several methods for a limited time, you should be able to gather some data showing what your typical customer prefers, by documenting how many choose one method over another.
You may not need to invest in a TikTok or start a company forum; studies show that the majority of customers still prefer a phone number to call, an email address to contact customer service, or a live chat. So do some experimenting and see what resonates with your customers.
#3 Listen to you customers
We know it’s not an innovative or original idea, but have you tried listening to your customers? Not all ideas or suggestions that come from customers will be beneficial or even practical, but you can learn a lot about what your company or brand is missing or could improve upon by listening to your customers.
Sometimes you can be too close to the brand, or too stuck in the business-running side of things to see what may be obvious to customers and potential customers. Listen and observe your customers and you could learn a lot about what people want and how to best deliver it to them.
Don’t Forget To Ask Your Customers for Reviews & Referrals
Now that you’re ready to knock customer service out of the park, how can you make sure you’re getting great reviews and referrals that reflect the amazing customer service experience you provide?
People everywhere want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger and like they are part of a group. Asking for referrals helps meet that need and helps boost your business simultaneously. But don’t assume that satisfied customers will go out and refer on their own. Unsatisfied customers are much more likely to share their experience on their own initiative. The customers that had a great experience with you might need a little push.
Word of mouth is still the best way to build business, and if you ask a happy customer to refer your business, you make them feel important and valuable to the business. It’s a win-win. Not only will this help build loyalty with that specific customer, but you’ll also end up with more loyal customers as a result of the referral. It’s contagious.
Studies also show that referred customers are 18% more loyal than customers gained through another method, and they tend to purchase more over time. So make “the ask” for referrals a normal part of your customer service experience.
Of course, we can’t forget about the ultimate referrals: online reviews. Reviews hold a lot of weight, both in terms of search rankings and customer decisions. In fact, 89% of 35-54-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal referrals.
So what’s that mean for you? It means you should definitely work on getting more reviews for your business.
Of course, if you’re struggling with getting reviews, there are things that can help. For example, you could reduce the amount of time between the service and the call to action, and consider a way to make it easy for your customer.
Some business owners find success through platforms like GatherUp, or by leaving behind cards and including links to their GMB listing and other review sites in their email signatures. See what works best with your customers.
And while you’re at it, why not ask your satisfied customers for testimonials that you can put on your website and social media pages? When you put testimonials and reviews directly on your website, you don’t have to worry about platforms like Google or Yelp deciding which reviews to filter and which ones to show. Your customers will see them all.
What Should You Do if You Get a Negative Review?
According to the latest BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey, 91% of customers say positive reviews make them more likely to use a business, while 82% say negative reviews make them less likely to use a business. So if your customers are saying good things about you, then you’re golden; if they’re leaving negative reviews, you need to make it right.
But it’s not necessarily the negative review that could hurt business – it’s how you respond to it. The worst thing you can do is ignore a negative review or simply move on.
In the words of Scott Stratten, best-selling author and president of UnMarketing,
“It’s not usually one thing that makes you leave a company; it’s a combination of issues and no resolution, or no satisfactory resolution to those issues.” [Source: “Unselling” Brainfluence Podcast With Roger Dooley]
Remember, you want every customer to feel like they matter, because they do! Ignoring a negative review and leaving your customer with their frustration is not how you show someone they matter.
The best thing to do when one of your customers feels they have received bad customer service is to address it quickly and calmly, and try to make it up to them. The good news is that 70% of customers will do business with you again if you make it up to them.
How do you do that?
If your customer complained online by leaving a negative review or comment on your Yelp, Google, or Facebook page, it’s important that you address it online so that other customers or potential customers can see that you care enough to try and make it right. Do NOT ignore the negative review and simply hope it will go away. Instead, express your apologies for the negative experience, emphasize that it is not a standard experience for your customer, and ask them to contact you directly so that you can make it right.
In other words, let them (and everyone reading the review going forward) know that their satisfaction matters and that your goal is to provide excellent customer service each and every time.
One thing you’ll certainly want to avoid is a back-and-forth online. Never argue or get defensive. This will not only upset the customer further, but it will make you look childish and unprofessional to anyone considering doing business with you.
Taylor Hill, one of the founders here at Spark Marketer regularly reminds business owners, “Do you want to be right or do you want to win?” If you’d rather be right, be prepared to lose customers.
Don’t Ignore the Things That Matter Most: Get Customer Service Right
So, how does your business stack up in terms of customer service? Whether you’re feeling pretty proud or pretty defensive right now, it’s a good idea to periodically stop and give this area of your business a good look.
Quality customer service is something that requires daily effort and practice, but just like you condition your body, you can condition your business to intrinsically provide top-notch customer care. So take the time to motivate and train your employees, and always be looking for ways to make the customer experience a good one.