Marketing Q & A
Marketing Q&A
By Al Jabaly


Al Jabaly is a certified marketing and business consultant with over 20 years of small business experience. Email your questions to al@FloridaBA.org. All questions will be answered via e-mail. Some of the most interesting questions will be posted in this weekly column. For further information, Al can be reached at 1-888-899-3190

 “AL. HOW CAN I IMPROVE ON OUR CUSTOMER SERVICE?"

Before I give you my opinion on what to do to improve customer service at your business, you need to keep one thing in mind: you will never make every one happy all the time! With some customers, you might as well give them the key to the store and leave, and even then they will still complain! Luckily, most customers expect a reasonable level of good customer service and communication and will be satisfied if they get both. Here is what you need to do:

A) START WITH YOURSELF. The owner’s attitude to customer service is paramount, and will determine its quality throughout the company hierarchy. If you, as owner, think that all customers are a pain and want something for nothing, then everybody working for you will probably take the same attitude. Fix it at the top first!

B) FIX THE PROBLEM, NOW! If you acknowledge the problem a customer is complaining about quickly and without arguments and if you fix it without delay, you will have a customer for life. If the problem is caused by the customers, educating them, in a polite friendly manner, is the first step towards resolving it. Then try to help them out by fixing the problem at the least cost to them and without delay.

C) DON’T THROW THE BLAME AROUND! The customer wants a problem resolved, regardless of who is to blame. Say it is a manufacturing defect. Help the customer. Call your supplier or manufacturer, explain the problem to them, seek a solution, etc. Don’t just weasel out of the problem and definitely don’t pass the buck!

Recently, I went to a nationally-known office supply store to check out a business software that I heard about. I read the information on the box and even called the store’s software expert and he confirmed that the software would do what I expected it to do. I bought the software and wrote his name on the receipt. At home, I found out that the software did not function as explained on the jacket and as we both understood it would do. I went back to the store and the clerk handling returns told me their policy was no refunds on software that was opened. I was upset and asked for the person who sold it to me. He remembered my visit the other day. I explained that the software did not do what he told me it would do. He picked up the phone, called the company, explained the situation and found out that it did not do that particular task that he and I expected it to do. He talked to his manager and they gave me a full refund. That was customer service at its best. I went to the manager and highly praised the software sales clerk for his initiative.

D) DON’T ASSUME THE WORST! Just because a customer brought a product back or complained about a service, do not assume that he or she is trying to rip you off in order to get their money back or get it for free. They may have a genuine problem. Study it. But if you feel that the customer is really trying to get a free ride, politely explain why you believe that his or her complaint is not valid. I knew someone who owned a restaurant and every now and then he had these cases where a customer consumed the whole entrée, bread and salad, and then complained that the food was lousy. My friend told these customers, politely, that had they told him, after the first 2-3 bites, that the food was not well cooked, tasted bad, or whatever, he would have gladly replaced it. He presented them with the bill and politely insisted on getting paid. Nine out of ten times, these customers paid their bill and never came back, knowing they could not eat free at his place! He had great customer service but drew the line with such customers!

E) HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE AND TRAIN THEM WELL. Not everyone is good at customer service, and the ideal candidate is one who is a people person and who enjoys helping others. So always look for these traits when you interview job applicants. Once hired, train them on your customer service philosophy and drill it into them that they will not have a job at your business if their customer service is not the best they can provide.

F) OVERDELIVER! Your goal is to make the customer very happy with the purchase so that he or she would come back again and would refer you to others. By doing a little bit extra, over and above what the customer expected, you will have achieved this goal at a very minimum extra cost to you in time, effort or money!