The importance of good customer service
Customer service is something we hear about all the time. When you think of customer service the first thing that usually pops to mind is being served at a restaurant. Generally the customer service can make or break the dining experience and you usually remember the waitress or waiter more than you remember the food. Customer service is applicable to every business, not just hospitality. Whether you are selling time, products or building cloud applications to sell on a monthly subscription, I believe customer service should be your primary focus. But let’s not call it customer service. Let’s call it “customer experience”.
This shift of focus turned my business and my life around. In January of 2015 I was considering closing my business down and starting a building apprenticeship, just so I didn’t have to look at another email. A series of difficult clients, business mistakes and limited cash flow had me at my wits end and I just wanted to do something else with my day, other than answering the daily tsunami of emails. This was about the time I decide to move from Auckland back to Wellington to be closer to my family, friends and of course my beautiful girlfriend who I spent over 18 months seeing only once a month. This was also about the time I started reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Heish. Within six month this book changed my life, my business and helped me create a culture in my company that makes everyday an absolute pleasure to get out of bed.
So what did the book make me change?
I changed my focus in my business. My focus for the past four-and-a-half years was growing my business. All the books I read were about growing a business and this was all I wanted to do. This took priority over everything, including my customers. My focus was on building a bigger, more profitable business – not a better business that was more fun to work in.
With the change of focus, I am not only enjoying my work much more, but ironically the business has grown and making more money. At Link Solutions we have regular meetings to discuss how to improve customer experience. Our objective is to create a “WOW” experience every time someone deals with Link Solutions. To do this there is a number of things we focus on, but at the absolute top of the list is communication. By providing regular and open communication, customers are always at ease throughout the project because they know where things are at and what the next step is. This means all our customers are a pleasure to work with, making our work really enjoyable.
Another great tip for providing a great customer experience is exceeding expectations. I’ve found when you communicate clearly what your product or service and deliver on that, you provide a great experience for your customer. The next step is to go that little step further to create a “remarkable” experience, which results in referrals.
How did I make the change?
After reading “Delivering Happiness”, I decided to make the change by first focusing on my culture. I looked at our culture and was not happy with what I saw. Although we were extremely competent at the work and delivered implementations successfully, and on time, our customers didn’t love us. I gave it some thought and realised it was mainly because our communication with customers wasn’t great. It was polite, but it was scarce. This was the first thing I changed. I decided to be proactive in communicating with my customers. Rather than waiting for them to contact me with questions, I would communicate the information before they thought to ask for it. This was just a simple change to our procedure but made a huge difference in the number of emails I was receiving and the experience my customers were having. For example, we now send out project plans at the beginning of each project. It sounds simple, but it was something we were not doing in the past.
With every communication I have with customer now I always use phrases such as “please contact me if you have any questions” or “I’m here for help, so please do make sure you contact me if there is anything you are unsure about”. Little things like this make your customers feel safe and confident in you and your product or service.
I saw incredible changes within a few weeks by shifting my mindset and making these practical changes. The next issue I had was my staff, who had picked up my bad habits over the years. I tried and tried to encourage change and lead by example, but nothing happened. Then I had the idea of the “book bonus”. At Link Solutions we have a “book of the month” and there is a $100 bonus if the book is completed within the month. The first month I introduced the book bonus everyone read “Delivering Happiness”. This got everyone on board with the changes I was wanting to make. After this the whole culture in the company started to change and my ideas started to come to life.
By the way, the book bonuses are still at hit. This month there is a $100 bonus for reading Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson & Jason Fried from 37 Signals.
What key lessons have I learned from the past six months?
Over the past six months I feel I have learnt more than I have in my previous four-and-a-half years in business. This could be because the battle scars of my early 20’s are healing, or the plethora of books I have read this year, but either way I feel like I am on the right path. Here are the biggest three lessons I learnt in the first half of 2015: