The essential customer service skills that business owners often forget…. (1) Time-speak – My worst customer nightmare is when someone is unavailable, or the receiver needs to investigate a matter, and they either don’t call you back, or they do not tell you when they will call you back. From banks and credit card companies to online stores and technical support, no company is exempt from this poor practice. It is invariably the customer who has to call back having waited patiently for the call that never comes. The answer? Use time-speak. If you cannot give an answer straightaway, give the customer an idea of when you might be able to, and when you will call them back; not might, not possibly, but WILL. Don’t use vagaries like ‘by close of play’ or ‘by Thursday’ – that’s not good enough. Ask them when they will be available for a call back and, matching a time that you can, make a point of calling them at that time, on that day. Be specific. Put it in your calendar. If you have not been able to resolve the query by that time, it is still an opportunity to maintain contact with the client and you still call them to update them. Believe me, they will be more grateful that you kept your promise to call at the pre-agreed time, than the fact you are unable to resolve their query at that precise time. (2) Melodise, don’t stagnatise – Customers are more likely to come back to you if your voice has melody. I am not talking about singing, or unnatural intonation, but a voice with a pleasant tone and rhythm. Some people would say speaking with a smile. Never negatise or stagnatise your voice; it’s very off-putting if you speak in staccato or with monotony. It gives the impression you’re not interested. Even for the most awkward customer, the quality business owner will maintain a positive sound to their voice at all times. That allows you to control the tone of the conversation and keeps open the possibility of a positive outcome, even when it seems doubtful. (3) Can do, not can’t do – Is a customer asking for something that you consider unreasonable or impossible? Try to get out of the habit of saying, “I can’t do that for you” or “I’m sorry, that’s not possible”. It may be a polite way of saying no, but it still immediately puts a defensive barrier up and puts aggression into the customer. Instead you should be keeping the initiative and perhaps respond with something like, “Well, what I can do for you is…” It requires you to think on your feet to offer a reasonable alternative, but it is a response that does not use any negative language. It shows that you are listening and willing to co-operate towards a successful resolution, whilst retaining control of what you can and cannot do for them. Those are my top three tips. What are yours? What prompted me to put this? I think some companies try too hard with gimmicks at the expense of the basics – especially unparalleled customer service. I’m not just talking about claims of excellent customer service but actually delivering excellent customer service. Nearly ALL businesses claim to offer to it, but a claim means nothing until the need arises to deliver it. For example, my parents recently bought a set of furniture from a very well-known high street clothing and furniture retailer; let’s call them “PREVIOUS”. They noticed the feet on the settee didn’t match the feet on the two chairs. They called up – not to complain as such, but just to ask whether they could send replacement feet that matched – it wasn’t really an emergency and the feet were fine until the right colour arrived. A person answered the phone immediately – no queue! They received an immediate apology on the phone, a promise of a re-delivery of new feet and a call back at a precise time on a precise date to make sure they had arrived, plus an enquiry as to what had happened. Of course, my parents came off the phone thinking ‘Yeah, we’ll be waiting forever and they won’t call us back”; that tends to be the normal reaction nowadays given companies’ strong ability to claim excellent customer service, but their usual inability to deliver it well – and I include SME’s just as much as larger companies in that. I, personally, have had a few poor experiences with SMEs who had very little idea of what excellent customer service actually entailed. Anyhow, back to my parents. They came off the phone with that typical feeling. But, how wrong could they be? The correct feet did arrive – the very next day, AND they got their call on the precise day at the precise time to check they were happy. Not only that but two weeks later they received a letter from “PREVIOUS” detailing the result of their enquiry, a further apology and a £25 gift voucher. Customer service of the highest quality, just for four, cheap, screw-on furniture feet that were light brown instead of dark. Since then, my parents have bought several other pieces of furniture and have said that because of their experience they will use this store again and again and again. They couldn’t praise their experience highly enough. How many business owners would do all of that – ensure a replacement was received within 24 hours, investigate the problem (however trivial) and give a full written response and apology, offer a compensatory gesture of goodwill (however minor the issue was), and actually call back to check with the customer at a pre-agreed time on a pre-agreed date? It’s a shame that this kind of customer service is no longer perceived as the norm. No gimmicks, no flair, no spin – it was just excellent, unparalleled customer service that went over and above what is usual and made them feel like they were the most important customer in the country. We often hear businesses claim to have excellent customer service, but when push comes to shove, it often tends to be average at best and leaves the customer feeling like one of many as they hang in a queue listening to “Thank you for holding; your call is very important to us.” Nearly everyone reading this will say “I do that anyway,” thinking and, perhaps, even ‘believing’ that they do. But defining it isn’t what we think or believe. The truth of it is in remembering it, delivering it and whether a customer retains their loyalty to you.