Recently I read an article entitled Fire Your “Bad” Customers and Send Them to a Competitor by Noel Peebles who begins the article by saying, “Let’s face it; some customers are just more trouble than they are worth.”
My company welcomes those customers. Simplicity Sofas is a small e-commerce furniture company with 95% of sales originating through our website or by telephone. The average sale is approximately $1700 so you can see why we can’t afford to “fire” any of our customers no matter how “fussy” or “demanding” they are.
As a result, my “extreme” customer service department has learned to convert potentially “bad” customers into loyal, enthusiastic word of mouth advocates. The very customer traits which some businesses consider to be “abusive” can be leveraged to create tremendous customer loyalty. Here are six simple strategies to accomplish this transformation:
1. Answer questions quickly.
Typically, small businesses feel that if they answer a customer’s email or phone message within 24 hours they are OK. It may be OK, but it is not good enough.
If you called a company with a question about a major purchase do you really want to wait until the next day for your answer? Neither do your customers. Pretty soon you stop asking questions. And lose interest. Or call back constantly and make yourself a nuisance – one of those customers that is going to get “fired.”
2. Answer all questions thoroughly.
What do we do with the customer who asks one question after another and can’t seem to make up his (or her) mind? Simple. We answer the questions. Every single one. No matter how long it takes. And we ask our own questions so that we understand what our customer actually needs.
Closing a customer who has already approached you and indicated interest is far easier (and less expensive) than starting from scratch. We welcome the opportunity to answer questions.
3. Maximize customer contacts.
Large customer service departments worry about “productivity.” The more customers one agent “assists,” the more “productive” they are. In my business “productivity” means making the sale. But not just the immediate sale. We are also looking to make the next sale and the one after that.
At Simplicity Sofas a contact is a phone call or email either to or from a customer. By the time one of our customers has purchased furniture and taken delivery, a minimum of 20 contacts have been completed.
Most of these contacts are initiated after the customer has already made their purchase. Why is so much effort expended after the sale? Because that is critical to ensure that the customer will come back. And recommend us to his and her friends. And his and her family. And his and her co-workers.
A customer who is kept fully informed and feels enabled to pick up the phone or send an email to get a rapid and thorough answer, is not going to be a “bad” customer who needs to be fired. Even when there are problems.
4. Be proactive in searching out potential problems.
Simplicity Sofas has been in business more than 5 years and sold and delivered furniture to over 2,000 customers. It has never received a negative review. The key to this is the company’s proactive approach to problems. Within one business day after an order has been delivered the customer is contacted and asked three questions:
- How do you like your new furniture?
- What did you think of the customer service?
- Are there any problems that need to be taken care of immediately?
Over half the problems mentioned by customers are extremely minor and the customer either volunteers to take care of it themselves or tells us we do not need to do anything. All of those customers, at a minimum, receive gift certificates good towards future purchases.
5. Compensate your customers when there is a problem.
No matter how minor (or major) the problem, we offer compensation sufficient so that the customer does not feel that they have been taken advantage of. Gift certificates for future purchases are a “no-cost” way to compensate for less-than-perfect service while simultaneously promoting future business.
More serious problems receive other forms of compensation. Creative forms of compensation can usually reimburse a customer for any inconvenience and aggravation suffered without too heavy a financial burden, but in the end the compensation must be “fair and reasonable” to your customer. The longer you make them wait the higher that “fair and reasonable” compensation is likely to be.
6. Surprise your customer.
Exceed your customer’s expectations! It really isn’t difficult. Customers expect so little from the companies they do business with. Answer questions promptly and thoroughly. Stay proactive in communications with your customers. When you make a mistake, apologize and offer compensation for the inconvenience and aggravation you have caused.
These are the basic tools needed to take those “bad” customers your competitors don’t want and turn them into grateful word of mouth advocates for your company.