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Wyoming Business Tips for Nov. 1-Nov. 7


October 26, 2009 — A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center, part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Anya Petersen-Frey, WyomingEntrepreneur.biz regional director

"As a business owner, I always hear about customer service, I think my employees provide that but how do I really know? What can I do to improve the elusive ‘customer service?'" Ann, Torrington

It is a fact of doing business. To stay competitive, you must constantly monitor the quality of the customer service you offer. If the first experience is poor, you may never have a chance to change that expectation and the customer may find another supplier.

Yet, customer service is a buzzword that like many others has lost its significance. It is time to revisit this valuable asset. Every single contact that a business owner has with customers -- internal and external -- either enhances or corrodes that relationship. This includes letters sent, advertisements run and phone calls made or answered. This includes employee contact and vendor contact. A business is only as good as its worst employee.

Try to see the business through customers' eyes. Create systems that will encourage a positive customer service experience. Let customers feel valued and appreciated. Customers may range in age from 12 to more than 80. They come from varied ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds and are diverse in their tastes. They also are more educated, technologically savvy and wealthier than any previous group of consumers. Recognize that they are less tolerant of mistakes and are demanding higher levels of service.

Try also to see the business through employees' eyes. One of the goals of customer service training is to instill in employees that it is their business too. Customer service must be viewed as company etiquette and if employees are not treated well, it will be tough for them to treat others properly.

Often the difference between a good company and a poorly run business is not always demonstrated when things run smoothly; the difference is how they handle situations when there is a mistake. Create a feedback loop for customers and employees.Ten Commandments of Customer Service, as shared by Inc. Magazine (2002), that hold true today:

-- Care about your employees and treat them well. Employee relations mirror your customer relations.
-- Praise and recognize your employees often. The more the better and don't just leave it to employee of the month programs.
-- Know and listen to your customers. If you don't really know your customers, how can you value them?
-- Believe that customer service drives profit. Your bottom line can be positively impacted if your service is good enough.
-- Train and empower your people. How can you expect employees to handle difficult customers if you have never taught them how to do it?
-- Clarify your service strategy. Are you going to be a Ritz Carlton or a McDonald's as far as service goes? How far are you willing to go to achieve the level of service you desire?
-- Weed out policies and procedures that are customer unfriendly. For example, is your return policy easy to understand and implement?
-- The company culture must be fanatical about customer service. Does you business have one?
-- Continually improve your service levels. Everyone in your business needs to continually look for ways to improve service. Develop systems to capture everyone's ideas and implement the best of them.
-- Remember that everyone has customers. Internal customer service is just as important as external customer service.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at http://www.wyomingentrepreneur.typepad.com/blog/.

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail wsbdc@uwyo.edu or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY 82071-3922.

 

Posted on Monday, October 26, 2009

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