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Building Blocks: Customer Service with Skip Cohen
Customer service is one of the most important aspects of your business. So often, like a doctor with no bedside manner, photographers forget the importance of dealing with the challenges of keeping clients happy.
Because of social media, one angry client can influence thousands of potential customers. The reach of today’s consumers is as big as that enjoyed by magazines and newspapers 10 to 20 years ago. Think about the possible impact of ignoring an unhappy client, who, right or wrong, decides to go public and position you as the bad guy. His reach can easily affect your business.
So, let’s come up with some things you can do to build a strong customer service program. We want your images to be the best, but the experience of each client is just as important. As the leader of your business, you need to hone your ability to empathize, resolve problems and communicate with every customer.
- Anticipate challenges: Think about everything you sell, from your products to your services. Whenever you work directly with the public, there’s always the chance that something is going to go wrong and not meet client expectations. Think through the nature of your business. Think about the things that can go wrong in any client relationship. All we’re doing here is making a list of potential challenges and how you’d resolve them.
- Be accessible: It starts with making it easy for customers to find you. Your phone number and email address need to be easily found on your website. Many of you don’t have a formal studio, so it’s understandable if you don’t want to list your home address, but give people other ways to contact you.
- Develop a stash of solutions: As a “one-man operation,” think through the potential solutions. With staff involved, talk about the list together and how you might solve any given situation. There are no such things as problems, only challenges that can be resolved.
- Have a chain of command: Establish some definite chains of command, giving every person involved in your business the authority to resolve certain types of challenges. There’s nothing worse than an upset client who can’t get an answer and keeps being passed along to another person.
- The Two-Person Rule: I’m a huge fan of WalkTheTalk.com and some of its books on customer service, leadership, communication, etc. I ran across the Two-Person Rule from the site’s 1999 publication, 180 Ways to Walk the Customer Service Talk:
Adopt the Two-Person Rule. Never make a customer talk to more than two people to resolve a problem. If you’re the second person to deal with the customer, you “own” them. Either solve the problem immediately or get a phone number and a convenient time to call back.
- Develop a positive attitude with every client: It’s a lot more fun playing offense than defense, and so many problems can be completely avoided just by building trust with your clients.
- Play offense: There are some easy ingredients to playing offense in customer service, starting with your attitude. Every customer needs to feel like they’re your first and most important client. You’re building trust with every meeting, conversation and email.
- Keep smiling: When on the phone with any client, smile as you talk. Believe it or not, a smile changes the tone of your voice and people on the other end of the line will hear it.
- Exceed expectations: In every aspect of your business, you’ve got one bottom-line goal: exceed expectations.
- Your reaction time: When you do get an upset customer, your reaction time is critical. There are few things that impress an unhappy client more than a fast response, even if you don’t have an answer. Whether you get an angry email or phone call, your key is being accessible immediately.
- Empathize, empathize, empathize: You don’t have to agree, just empathize with what a client is telling you. An upset client needs to know you’re listening. One easy response to an upset customer is to say simply, “I can’t blame you for being upset (or ‘I’m sorry you’re upset’), but the buck stops here. Let’s see how I can help.”
- Solve problems quickly: The faster you find a solution, the smoother the challenge and the less likely for any peripheral damage to your reputation.
- Be a resource: Always give customers more information than what they’re asking for. Disney is the best at this. I know I’ve written before about it. If you ask any Disney staff member, “When is the electric light parade?” they’ll not only answer you, but they’ll give you a great suggestion on where to watch it. Be engaging!
- Listen, listen, listen: All the answers are out there—as long as you listen. Learn to listen to your clients. Know the demographics of your audience. Pay attention to what’s going on in your market as well as with your competitors.
- Find solutions of value: So often, as a consumer myself, I’ve been given a solution from a company that failed to match my complaint. Here’s a prime example.
After an airline delay due to servicing the aircraft—and obviously not the fault of the weather—we were significantly delayed. To get home, we had to fly to a different airport and then find ground transportation to get home. American Airlines refused to cover the additional expense, offering a $50 voucher for approximately $300 in expenses.
You can’t offer a customer who is upset with her album a free 8×10. You can’t give away the store, either. So it’s important to empathize and then look at all the possibilities you have to resolve things to their satisfaction.
Be active on social media. Just having a website isn’t enough today. You need to maintain a consistent presence with a blog, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Google+. Because that’s where your customers are looking. Social media is also a terrific foundation for building trust and your reputation.
There’s so much more I could write about this one topic, but let’s wrap it up with one more great series of tips. Author Steve Ventura, in the WalktheTalk.com book, hit on five assumptions every business owner should avoid like the plague when it comes to serving customers.
Stay clear of:
- Assuming you know what customers want—or what’s best for them.
- Assuming customers know what they need.
- Assuming customers understand everything you have explained.
- Assuming customers are OK with whatever you do in the course of servicing them.
- Assuming customers are happy and satisfied.
I love his closing comment on the last one:
You’ll never really know unless they tell you…or unless you check. So, if they don’t say anything, ask! (“My goal is to make sure you’re happy and satisfied with the service you received. How did I do?”)
All of you are working to create the finest images of your career, but that’s not enough. Customer service is all about putting together your attitude and your aptitude. We’re a word-of-mouth business, and the best way to build a strong brand is to build a reputation as a listener and then solve each challenge as it comes up—quickly and fairly.
One last thought: Not every client will always be satisfied. There will always be that one you just couldn’t help, no matter what you tried. Just don’t let it eat away at you. Instead, focus on how many great relationships you continue to build.