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Improving customer service

November 1st, 2010 / By: / Graphics

We all know that service to our customer is critical, especially in this economy. How is it woven into your daily operation? Have you clearly defined your client expectations and established a means of meeting them in order to ensure satisfaction and a continuance of your business relationships?

“Service” begins with the first contact. How did the potential customer come to make a connection with you in the first place: through an ad, a reference or perhaps seeing your product or service in use? We display a form of customer service even before we perceive it.

My idea of customer service means meeting a need within a specified time period to defined standards and standing behind what we sell. We have performed to this description and the unpredictable occurs, and then we are asked to go further with “service.” How willing are you to go the extra distance to meet that need? Is it determined by the value of the customer, the cost involved in meeting the extra need or the principles you determine as just good business sense?

Set standards for a sound customer service program

Make customer service a number one priority by building friendships before you build customers. How would you choose to deal with a friend? Once you determine this mind set, it becomes easier to know that you have developed this customer relationship based on a trust that works both ways. It is far easier to stand behind your product and go that extra mile with someone you know.

Instill the concept of service as an equal to product quality. Having started our company with sales, accounting and operations management in one room, and me having a loud voice, it doesn’t take much to understand how anyone working with me followed my lead. If they heard me say something on the phone or in person, the standard was set. Live by what you preach, and support those that you put in a position of responsibility. Our business started from scratch in a developing industry. We didn’t have a model to follow and built our policy on experiences. After 18 years, it is still a work in progress. I guess that’s why they call it the “bleeding edge.”

Determine standards that are fair and meet needs. Yes, you can write a litany of what you will and will not do to stand behind your product or service, but when it comes to keeping customers, we all bend the rules. However, if you don’t have a printed policy, how can you expect to offer service? Over the years, we have developed a list of essential elements that go into any project we produce. You will be amazed at what you will avoid in a service problem by bringing up issues before they occur. Not only are you saving service dollars, but you show the client that you have a sincere interest in ensuring their satisfaction of your product.

Be consistent with both staff and clients. Nothing breaks morale faster than bending a rule for one sales person’s account and not supporting another’s in a similar situation. Don’t use the old ploy of “having to do what you have to do” to solve the problem. This creates larger problems for everyone.

Follow up to ensure satisfaction.Having passed the reigns at our company to the young and energetic, I am no longer in regular contact with the friends that we have made over the years. However, it was most heartwarming to get a recent e-mail from one of our account executives to let me know that they had made contact with an old friend who has done business with us since the beginning. The account was reassigned after a resignation in our sales staff. This caused me to make contact to make sure that the client was being serviced in a way they had come to expect. The transition was seamless and satisfaction prevailed. Make sure that your staff follows up on completed projects whenever possible. Avoid misunderstandings by keeping a line of communication open in order to prepare for the next transaction.

Don’t forget your goodwill ambassadors. We have many past business associations that have truly been ambassadors for our company. We attempt to keep them informed through our regularly published newsletter. Not only is this a means of staying in touch, but keeping them abreast of new product and service offerings, highlighting recent projects, and ensuring constant contact. They have become an extension of our “service” department.

Make your website customer service orientated. We developed our website to be a service tool and not only promote our “features and benefits,” but highlight goods and services that are idea generators and true industry tools. Think service in all areas of your promotions.

Be proactive rather than reactive. I continue to this day to feel that you cannot build a sound business model on offering the cheapest product or service. Offering total customer service from the beginning to end of each transaction will far surpass meeting client expectations versus a low cost offering

Pat Hayes is founder and chairman of Fabric Images, Elgin, Ill., a member of the Fabric Graphics Association and a director on the board of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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