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Ask the CEO: Exceptional Customer Service

Most of my columns are based on experiences I’ve had with my former companies. Most of my organizations were in business-to-business selling, so my experience with retail is relatively limited to personal buying experiences. That being said, I think many of the practices I used still apply to today’s small business, or any retail business.

Recently, I was shopping around for a very specific watch, and my experiences are what gave me the idea for this month’s column. Between driving to local stores, calling others and looking online, I’ve put together what I believe are the three key things to focus on for awesome customer service.

  1. The first impression is more important than anything.

In my opinion, this is the most important thing you need to focus on. I’m not just talking about the conversation with the salesperson, I’m talking about the parking lot, the voice message you greet callers with, the receptionist, the reception area, the building, the door. These are so very important.

I once owned a Cessna Airplane sales, service and training center. Pilots would pay thousands of dollars to learn to fly and then hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy an airplane. After buying the dealership, I pulled out the list of things I wrote about my very first impression (signage, parking lot, entrance area, reception area, shop, classroom, etc.) and immediately addressed those items. We tend to forget about first impression, because we see the same thing every day.

One of the places I called about a watch used an automated message service (which I hate navigating). Once I pressed all the correct numbers I was routed to Cindy. While Cindy answered all my questions, she made me feel like I was wasting her time and she had better things to do. These were two opportunities to make a great first impression that failed for me.

  1. Don’t hire Cindy.

Probably equally as important as the first impression is to hire the right people, and then treat them well.

In the case of my Cessna dealership, all of my employees were either pilots, certified airplane mechanics or were working on their license or certification. Pilots like dealing with other pilots. I assume the same is correct in the watch business. I realize not everyone likes watches. My son constantly says, “That watch looks like the one you bought last year, why do you need another one?” But, if I were running a watch business, I would make sure I hired a watch person (but not a watch snob).

Be careful with this. I know an auto mechanic who can fix anything on four wheels. He can practically diagnose a problem by listening to the engine and smelling the exhaust. But, he is a car snob. He will make you feel stupid if you ask a basic question, or don’t know advanced auto mechanics.

The key is to find the right employees – who really want to help. They must be patient and understand that sometimes they’ll get dumb questions. And it should go without saying that once you hire the right person, treat them well. Happy employees make for happy guests/customers/clients.

  1. Collect data non-stop where your customers leave feedback.

The beauty of social media is that everyone has an opinion and they are quick to share it. You need to know where your customers are leaving feedback and address it head on. Every opinion matters, especially the negative ones.

I know Yelp, Google and other review sites may sometimes have reviews from folks who are just out to hurt your business. Don’t ignore them. Respond that you are sorry to hear that they had a bad experience and offer to make it good. The only thing better than a five-star review is a person who updates a low review to a high one based on how you corrected the situation.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the feedback, and don’t stay away from the sites where you can get feedback. And, back to my first point, why not ask five customers a day, “What was you first impression, and what are two things you would change?”

If you just focus on these three things and make the changes necessary to correct any deficiencies, I guarantee you will have happy clients, repeat business and positives reviews. Let me know if you think I’ve left something off. FBN

T Paul Thomas is the Director of the Northern Arizona University Nonprofit Center, where he teaches business and social entrepreneurship, serves as the CEO of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance (NALA) and is the Chief Entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU in 2013, Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and President.  He ca

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