As a business owner, you've likely heard the customer service guideline, "The customer is always right." Whether or not the customer is actually always right is up for debate, but what the adage points to is the value of making sure your customers feel cared for and appreciated. If customers feel like they're always right, they're likely to come back and continue to support your company.
In fact, good customer service can do more than keep your customers satisfied—it can have a measurable impact on your business. Happy customers become repeat customers, and repeat customers are more likely to spend more money with you. According to a report from BIA/Kelsey, repeat customers were found to spend 67% more than new customers. Repeat customers also require less investment in marketing costs.
So, how do you keep your customers happy and coming back, again and again? The guidelines for good customer service can be boiled down to three areas of focus: creating positive experiences, meeting or exceeding expectations, and building strong relationships. We'll dive into each of these themes below—keep reading to learn customer service best practices that will help your business have a memorable impact with customers.
Customer service guideline #1: create positive customer experiences
The first area to consider when evaluating your customer service is to look at how customers experience your business. This can start from the moment they walk in your door, noticing how your location looks, feels, smells, and sounds. Are they greeted warmly by your staff? Is it easy to know where to go, and what instructions to follow regarding wearing masks inside? Does the establishment feel clean, comfortable, and welcoming? When they get goods delivered, are they packaged and presented in a way that feels thoughtful and caring?
Every touchpoint in your business is an opportunity to create a great customer experience, and no item is too small. The food you serve or the products you sell are important, but they're just one aspect of your business. When you care about the details, customers will notice and feel valued.
Here are some other items to consider that can impact your business's experience:
How your team greets and talks to customers
How clean your establishment is
Retail customer service – is it easy for customers to find the items they're looking for?
Bathroom design – this Bon Appetit article shares some incredible tips
For restaurants in particular, a few more items are:
Your menu design
How you plate your food
The different branded freebies you offer, like matchbooks and toothpicks
The delivery containers you use
Since it can be hard to judge your own business when you're so close to the work you do, consider asking others for feedback. Ask your customers to share their thoughts and suggestions regularly—either in person or online. Consider asking a trusted friend or customer to walk through the premises with you and point out how each element makes them feel, so that you can truly put yourself in your guests' shoes.
Don't forget that your business has an online experience, too! Make sure your website and online ordering platforms are polished and accurately reflect your menu and products with high quality photos, descriptions, and updated business information. Additionally, be strategic about your social media content so that it truly reflects your business' brand and experience—whether they're visiting in-person or getting items delivered.
Customer service guideline #2: exceed expectations
As soon as you've curated a thoughtful experience for your customers, it's important to meet their expectations—consistently. Not meeting expectations is the quickest way to poor customer service.
The key to meeting expectations is communication. If you're not able to offer something up to your usual standards, let customers know as soon as possible with humility. While a guest might be disappointed to hear that you're out of their favorite dish for the day, they'll most likely be forgiving if you apologize and let them know early, giving them time to choose something else to order.
However, to really exceed customer expectations, consider things you can do to surprise and delight them. For example, if you're out of a guest's favorite dish, consider offering them a freebie like an appetizer or a drink to make up for it. It's not something they expect, but it's almost definitely something they'll appreciate.
This is similar when providing good retail customer service, too. If you're a pet store or a flower shop, try adding a short, handwritten thank you note to your deliveries. For customers that come into your shop, explore offering cost-efficient but thoughtful surprises, like leaving dog treats on the counter or selling discounted bouquets. If either of these isn't feasible for your business, you can do something as simple as offer coupons to thank your customers for their business. Little things like this can go a long way in showing customers you care.
Customer service guideline #3: build strong relationships
The previous two customer guidelines both ladder up to the most important one: building strong relationships. At the end of the day, the service industry is all about creating and nurturing relationships—making people feel cared for when they go out for dinner, or order delivery, or shop locally.
One small but powerful way to do this is to get to know your customers by name. Say hi to your regulars and get to know your new guests. Even a simple, "Welcome back!" can communicate to customers that you remember them and appreciate their returning business.
Similarly, you can build relationships even with your more challenging customers. Sometimes, people just want to know that their complaints have been heard. Make sure to regularly monitor your Yelp page and other review sites so you can respond to unhappy customers. An honest acknowledgment of their complaint or a simple apology can help ease their anger—and signal to other customers that you take their concerns seriously
Another way to build relationships with your customers is to set up a loyalty program to show customers you appreciate them for supporting your business. Send regular emails and updates to stay top of mind, and grow your relationships with them even when you're not together in person.
Additionally, don't forget that building relationships with your staff is just as important. A happy team is more likely to provide better customer service, creating a welcoming environment for guests. Listen to your staff's challenges and find ways to help them do their jobs in an environment that feels supportive. Read these tips for hiring and retaining staff—which are especially crucial during an industry labor shortage.
Growing your business through quality customer service
While it's easy to prioritize other aspects of running a business, investing in good customer service can go a long way in creating an experience that customers will want to come back to again and again. Focus on creating a welcoming environment with thoughtful attention to detail that will exceed your customers' expectations to grow relationships over time—you'll likely find that it will help your business grow in the process.
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