|Section 1 – Customer Service
Don't promise what you can't deliver, and don't deliver late
In an effort to do business with a huge corporation and it's seemingly huge budget, you may make promises you may not be able to keep. Before you agree to a request, be realistic. Carefully evaluate your current schedule and determine if you have time to complete the job. You may not always be the right person to handle the project.
Make it easy for people to do business with you
Your product or service may be absolutely fantastic – guaranteed to save others time, money, and aggravation. However, if you neglect to make it easy for people to do business with you, they won't beat a path to your door. People can sabotage themselves by inadvertently setting up roadblocks.
Do you have convenient hours? Not everyone works 9 to 5. Some people work late hours and weekends, making it impossible for them to visit your home office or call when you are available. Be willing to call them after hours or to meet with them at their convenience.
Do you continue to receive the same requests? For example, do clients request a delivery service? If given the choice between driving out of their way for something and having it delivered, people will often opt for delivery. If enough people ask about delivery, include it in your service and build it into your operating costs or charge extra for it.
Do you miss several phone calls throughout the day? Consider hiring someone part-time to answer your phones, use a pager or cell phone, or employ an answering service (remember Tip #2). Voice mail is always an option, but sometimes people like to hear a live voice and feel skittish about leaving messages. With an answering service, you can have the phone answered any way you like. Many callers may not even realize that they have called an answering service, and will think they are speaking to a person on your staff.
Would you double your orders if you had an 800 number? You may be losing orders because your competitor offers toll-free calls.
Are you flexible? When your customers ask for an additional service or a product in a different colour, do you consider their requests? If you don't, someone else eventually will. Giving credence to your clients' requests could increase your profits and may even spark another business idea.
Pay attention to what your customers want
Day after day, you may receive phone calls asking for the same thing. It may be a product or service that you don't currently offer and have never considered offering. But what some people call a nuisance, others call a golden opportunity.
Successful businesses have sprouted from a good idea that came out of a request. Other businesses, doing marginally well, have taken off after the owners listened to customers' requests and gave customers what they wanted. Of course, not all requests are reasonable or even feasible. The ones that are deserve your full attention. If, for example, your business includes presenting seminars, and people call you requesting audio or video tapes of your programs, you can either continue to tell them you don't have any or you can create them.
Because you are so closely tied to your product or service, it may take an outsider to see how you can improve what you are currently offering. Maybe you have a product available in only one colour or size, while customers would welcome a smaller size and array of colours. You could pre-sell the product, then produce the product, minimizing your risk. Your clients would be happy and so would your bank account.
It is easier to maintain the status quo and continue to do business as usual than it is to take a chance on a new product or service. If, however, the ones holding the purse strings want additional products or services, give it to them. Only a few of your customers may have suggested these ideas to you, yet if you survey your other clients, you may find that they, too, would use the product or service if it were offered.
Stay out of your clients territory
Have you seen the way two animals peer into each others' eyes, carefully scrutinizing each other and determining who has trespassed into whose territory? You may be encroaching on your clients' territory without your knowledge. You and your clients should be working toward mutually beneficial goals, and the method for attaining your goals should benefit all of you.
Until you have worked with clients for a while and set boundaries (either formal or informal), it is important to know your territory, know how to stay out of your clients' territory, and know how to stay within your own. Otherwise, you set yourself up for a conflict.
Your contact at a company, possibly the owner, may not be aware of everyone's job responsibilities. After all, titles can be ambiguous. When you're given a project, make sure that the person with whom you will work does not feel threatened.
Promote your clients business
When you work with clients for along time, you may forget that not everyone is familiar with them. If you believe that they are the best at what they do, share this information with others.
Tell everyone you know about your clients and how they may help others. Someone may be looking for a certain type of company and simply not know it exists.
Some companies promote their clients through radio and television advertisements. The ads usually have two parts. The first part describes the client's company and the second demonstrates how the advertiser helps the client. You can adopt the same approach on a smaller scale by including a client in your brochure or other sales materials.
When working with clients, devote yourself to them 100 percent
As we have all experienced, the moment you leave your office, the phone rings. (Even though you can be in your office all morning and the only calls you receive are wrong numbers or telemarketers.)
Because of this, it may be difficult for you as a home office professional to resist checking your messages. However, when working with a client, you owe the client your undivided attention. Certainly you want to be accessible to others, but when you are working with someone, the others have to wait.
If you know that you will be out of your one-person office all day, leave an outgoing message on your phone that clearly states when you will return calls. When you take your mind off your messages, you can focus on your client.
Unless you are expecting an extremely urgent call, turn off your pager and cell phone. They serve as distractions and tell your clients that you are only partially with them. In this age of quality customer service, this one action can go a long way towards building a solid working relationship.
Do business with a personal touch
Some people become so preoccupied with the day-to-day operations of their businesses that they forget to do something special for their clients. If you assume that your clients are happy and that if they need anything they will tell you, think again. That is not always true.
As your client base continues to grow, it is imperative that you maintain the same level of service that you provided when you first earned your clients' business. Then search for the extra something to do for them. For some clients, your basic service is enough, while others want special treatment, even though they may not have the courage to tell you. The special treatment doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. It just has to come from your heart.
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