Do you lead or manage a business-to-business company? Great customer service may be even more important for your organization than for companies serving individual customers directly. B2B companies tend to have far fewer customers but their accounts are often much bigger. Over time, a single customer can make an enormous impact on your company and bottom line.
Great customer service doesn’t happen solely through good intentions. It takes thoughtful planning, effective training, and ongoing maintenance to ensure all executives and staff members provide what customers need. Here’s how to deliver customer experiences that lead to profits and business growth.
Hire people who care. It can be tempting to hire for skills, not attitude. You must look for both. Even the back-room technicians need to have passion for what they do. Any lack of concern will show in your customer service, as your service reps struggle to explain to a customer why a project or repair was finished late or poorly.
Remember that inconsistency confuses your customers. Building trust starts and ends with consistency. If customers don’t know what to expert from your products and service, they can’t depend on you. Consistently doing what is right, and consistently fulfilling your promises, makes customers more trusting and loyal.
Follow the lead of American Ford, a car dealership and repair shop in snowy Glendive, Montana, about 150 miles south of Canada. American Ford’s 30 employees actually deliver newly purchased vehicles to their customers following a sale, even if the customer is 450 miles away. When a customer’s vehicle needs repairs, shop employees will pick it up using their flatbed trucks and trailers, and return it once repairs are complete. Customers know they can count on the company no matter what the weather produces. That may explain why American Ford’s 17 repair bays are so busy, they’re booked up three weeks in advance.
Communicate early and often. In research with B2B customers across the U.S., we found that poor communication is the most common problem when a business gets poor customer service ratings. Tell your customers what’s happening with their order or repair at every stage. Use language that everyone can understand. If something has gone wrong, own up to it immediately and be detailed on what you are doing to fix the problem.
Communication issues that you consider small might be a big deal to your customers. Atlas Machine & Supply, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky company that designs, manufactures, sells and repairs industrial machinery, discovered that customers were miffed when the company didn’t return their calls fast enough. They were also irritated when company employees didn’t let them know they were on their way to fix equipment that had broken down. The company made changes immediately and now gets high marks for communication.
Give employees the freedom to be creative. Provide boundaries so each employee has a sense of what’s permissible in terms of budget or time spent on a single customer. Then give employees a bit of free rein.
One example comes from Morton’s, a high-end steakhouse chain. Customer service consultant Peter Shankman, a frequent Morton’s customer, once jokingly tweeted, “Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours?” A local Morton’s employee actually showed up there in a tuxedo, carrying a bag with the porterhouse, an order of colossal shrimp, potatoes, bread, napkins and silverware. Does your company respond as quickly to help top customers?
Take initiative. Judd Frost, a clothier in Minnesota, realized that a groom had flown to his destination wedding in Costa Rica and forgotten his wedding-day pants in Frost’s changing room. The clothier reached the bride through Facebook. Neither she nor her fiancée had realized the pants were missing. Then Frost did something amazing: He sent his daughter, a company employee, to Costa Rice to deliver the pants in time for the ceremony. That level of customer service made national news in the U.S. Could it draw new customers to this shop? You bet.
Let employees know when they’ve done a good job. Public recognition can be especially rewarding to customer service employees. Acknowledge them in whatever way fits your company – but acknowledge them. Celebrate their success, and your company will have more of it.
Lynn Daniel is president of The Daniel Group (www.thedanielgroup.com), a U.S. consulting firm that helps business-to-business companies improve their customer service. Reach him at email@example.com.