For a small business owner, the ultimate goal is to establish a reputation good enough to do the marketing for you. Nowhere does a reputation precede us more than in customer service. Even the best product can be irreversibly tarnished by bad service, so it's not only a benefit but a necessity to ensure your staff members are aware of your expectations and capable of carrying out consistently good service to your clients.
Be a good example
Not surprisingly, it all starts with you. No matter how many times you tell your employees what you want from them, nothing beats observing it firsthand. Commit yourself to providing excellent customer service and your staff members will follow.
Play the consumer
Have your employees put themselves in the shoes of the customer? This should not be too hard because, after all, we are all consumers in one way or another. Have them discuss their own personal experiences as the customer and how to incorporate the positive while minimising the negative. We also sometimes forget to instil the attitude that great customer service is not an addition to our roles - it is a fundamental part. If anything, an employee should take on the attitude that the minimum they can give a client is excellent service, then it's up to the product to shine.
Nothing is obvious
Always be clear and consistent about your expectations. If you have a specific way you want your employees to engage with clients, make sure you are as direct about it as possible. In addition, remember that while some people may have a natural tendency to engage with clients (the "people person"), excellent customer service is a skill that needs to be harnessed and developed, and all personalities are capable of achieving this. Just because somebody is not naturally bubbly or talkative doesn't mean they can't go above and beyond for a client in need. Ensure sufficient and ongoing training is provided to give your team the necessary skills, particularly for dealing with difficult clients.
Assess the situation regularly
Once a lesson has been taught, don't assume it will remain fresh forever or that all team members will have the knack for adapting it to all situations. Ongoing monitoring of staff performances, strengths and weaknesses is needed to ensure ongoing development. You may also consider speaking to clients about their experiences or even have some secret shopper type scenarios to monitor your team's performance.
It's a small world
A valuable lesson for anyone involved in small business is how close the connections amongst clients, staff, investors, etc. really are. Teach your staff to assume that anyone walking through the doors is somehow already connected to the business, be it another client, staff member or associate. Take the approach that in small business there are no strangers and that all our actions lead to consequences.
When your staff members show initiative, be sure to acknowledge them. Ensure this is done in a vocal manner so that other team members are able to appreciate it and work towards good service as well.
Make staff accountable
We all make mistakes, however each staff member must be held responsible for their actions, particularly when it has impacted on a client or the business's reputation in a negative way. Focus on how to improve the situation, but do not forget negative incidents when they occur. Remember, how your employees treat clients will directly impact your business's reputation.
Remove bad apples
If you find that with training, encouragement and even reprimand a staff member is not able to perform to the standard you have set, it may be time to consider your options. Ultimately, if excellent customer service is a high priority, it is important that you do not settle for less.
When your team is able to appreciate the importance of customer service, it stops being a task and becomes a culture. Make it a priority in your business and reap the rewards. Remember each encounter with a client is an invitation for future business.
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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Nick Petrovic is a registered psychologist and head of clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic and has more than 10 years' experience in the allied health and business. Nick has contributed to regular columns in more than a dozen business magazines and newspapers, advising on issues such as mental health, work related stress, strategic planning, business analysis and human resources.