Business success has always been elusive, but, as the economy tightened, businesses stepped up their search for the next trick to give them a competitive advantage. Maybe social media marketing would work? Or increasing appeal to a specific demographic? But, these marketing tactics can be very expensive and the ROI is often speculative.

Other businesses tried to “shrink to greatness” thinking business success came from cutting costs to a minimum. These efforts are often misguided, since cutting costs often translates to cutting corners that force customers into the arms of a competitor. Cutting costs may also mean cutting your promotional expenses which amounts to cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Another popular solution to create business success is copying what competitors do under the mistaken notion that, if competitors are making money doing something, you should do it to. This, in effect, keeps you swimming in the red ocean — never a good thing.

The solution for business success is right under your nose — providing great customer service.

No matter how well you manage your marketing and promotion, poor customer service will TANK your business success. In fact, the more customers generated by your marketing efforts, the GREATER your loss if your customer service fails. The days of treating customers as if they don’t matter are gone. In today’s competitive markets, you have to prove yourself to customers everyday. That’s because 5 times as many people complain when they get bad service as promote you when they get great service.

Thus, negative word of mouth travels 5 times faster and farther than positive. Disappointed customers don’t just complain to you — they complain to anyone who will listen. And, they might keep complaining for years. Twitter is the perfect vehicle for customers who feel they received poor customer service and complaints are one of the most re-Tweeted types of posts. Twitter is also a darling of traditional media outlets, who love to find a customer complaint and amplify it through their vast broadcast networks.

And, most folks who experience poor customer service will never say anything — they’ll just leave and never come back. Resting on past laurels also doesn’t help much as customers expect ever-increasing improvements in service quality and additional services.

I mean, think about hotels. It used to be fine if you had a nice clean room and good TV reception. Then, people demanded premium TV channels and designer rooms, because EVERYONE had a nice clean room and good TV reception. Now, hotels compete on branded amenities, such as Westin’s “Heavenly Bed”.

Great Customer Service Doesn’t Just HAPPEN

And, ensuring great customer service is just as much a part of marketing as your TV advertising and social media presence. In fact, if your customer service (or product quality) isn’t up to snuff, your efforts are better spend in fixing these problems rather than publicizing your offering.

Remember, the rule of 5 I mentioned earlier. The more visibility your create while failing to provide good products and service, the more likely complaints will surface and these complaints are increasingly likely to go VIRAL.

How do I insure great customer service, you might ask? And here’s the answer.

1. Talk to customers

Don’t just ask customers what they liked and didn’t like about your service. Track sales to see whether customers stop coming to your store or buying your brand. Monitor what customer say about you on Facebook and Twitter.

When customers say something wasn’t good, fix the problem right away and make it up to them. The trick to handling service failure is:

  1. communicate – don’t just do things internally, let customers know they’re valuable and what you’re doing to fix things.
  2. make the customer whole — make sure they are at least as well off as if you hadn’t failed them.
  3. do it fast — the longer customers are dissatisfied, the bigger your problem.
  4. establish a process that consistently uncovers problems and charges specific individuals with fixing the problem.
  5. fix underlying problems to reduce future service failure.

2. Do a SERVICE AUDIT

A service audit tracks customer experiences from the beginning of the sales cycle through post-purchase issues such as returns. Where do problems or delays arise? What can be done to fix these problems? How can you improve the customer experience? Remember, according to Deming, most problems are SYSTEM problems, not human laziness or stupidity.

3. Keep your promises

No one likes it when you don’t deliver on your promises. You don’t seem trustworthy and they think everything you say is a lie — witness consumers don’t believe anything they hear on commercials. It’s much better to deliver MORE than you promise than to not keep your promise EVERY time. People are thrilled when they get more and angry (possibly lawsuit angry) when they don’t get what they thought you promised. Remember, all marketing is about perceptions — what THEY think you promised — not on reality — what you really promised. The distinction may help you in a lawsuit, but not in the court of public opinion.

4. Cater to internal customers

Internal customers are your employees. These folks are critical, especially if they’re forward facing — interacting directly with customers. Poor employee morale translates into poor customer service. Moreover, employees see and hear what’s going on in your stores, hotels, restaurants … They can give you valuable, free feedback on improving your service before things get out of hand. But, they won’t do that if they don’t like you.

5. Employee empowerment

Forward facing employees are in a perfect position to fix problems that occur on the spot. Say a guest at your hotel finds their room wasn’t cleaned to their satisfaction. Who do they complain to? The front desk, of course. So give front desk employees leeway to discount room charges, give out free meals, etc to appease dissatisfied customers.

Creating business success isn’t hard when your focus on great customer service first. Ideas? Suggestions? Gripes? Please post below.

Image courtesy of Aube Champagne on Flickr.

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