Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Your Customers Want and Need From You

Regardless of your industry, your customers are looking for you to provide them what they want and / or need. And interestingly enough, those wants and needs fall into four basic levels - the four levels of customer service. The more you understand them and can fold them into your business methods, the more likely your customers will choose you again and again - and even recommend you to their friends and family. In fact, if you understand the four levels of customer service, you will become more to your customers than you have ever been before and you will begin to see that your customers will become more to you than you could possibly imagine.

Those four needs (levels of customer service) are:

- Getting the product they expect
- Being able to get the product they want, when they want it and where they want it
- Having you understand them and feel that you are on the same team - not opposition
- Being able to rely on you as an expert in your field.

The first two levels are not just wants, but in fact requirements that your customers demand of you to continue using your services / products. If you fail to provide the product that you promise and fail to provide it in a location convenient for them at the time they want / need it, they will choose another business to patron. That isn't an opinion – it is tested and proven correctly, everyday, in every business around the country.

You see, it doesn't matter how clean your store is, how friendly and nice your employees are, or how much you know about what you do - if you can't fulfill the first two needs, your customers will move on.

But not to worry, this is why you are in business – to provide your product or service when and where your customers want it. These are the easiest parts of customer service – the parts that you built into your business from the very beginning. These parts, product, location and availability are easy to create and easy to provide. Unfortunately for you, they are also very easy for your competition to duplicate. That's right in today's world, your competitors can easily provide the same service or product that you provide, where and when your customers want it.

So the essence of customer service comes down to the second two needs – both of which separate you from your competition and are very difficult to duplicate.

First lets talk about understanding your customers and getting them to believe that you are their friend – helping them to solve their problems.

Most businesses sell the product or provide the service that they create – not what the customer is looking for. The trick to reaching this level of customer service is to stop and figure out what you can offer your customers, systematically, that will fulfill some of their biggest needs / concerns beyond just getting your product.

As an example, one of my clients, a cleaning specialist, recognized the value of this level of customer service. He noticed that many of his customers were selling their house or had just moved into a new house and wanted his services. So, in order to drum up new business, he created guarantee – If you sell your home with six months of using his services, he will clean the same areas of the home for free when the new owners move in. By making this simple gesture, he showed his customers that he understood how difficult the process of selling a home is, and that he is on their side – and will help out by relieving them of the burden of having to re-clean again after the sale is made.

Another example of this comes from another one of my clients – a medical professional. He realizes the importance of understanding his patients' needs, too. But in this case, this Doctor wanted to honor his patient's time. So he created a guarantee, that no other doctor I know has the gumption to make. He guarantees that if you aren't seen within 15 minutes of your scheduled appointment, you will get a free $20 gas card at a local gas station. Sound crazy – you bet it is – but his patients love it and he is always on time!

So, take a look at your customers and figure out what it is that is really going to help them feel understood – because the business that can pull this off is one step closer to turning your one time customers into lifelong cheerleaders.

Finally, the last level of customer service is becoming an expert in your industry – someone that they know they can turn to for advice and someone that teaches them the ins and outs of the industry (the trade secrets). Reaching this level is truly about becoming more than just a product provider and becoming a source of information on the hows and whys of what you do.
Again, to provide some examples of this concept, let me bring up a couple of clients.

The first example is a flower shop. A couple of months back they began teaching their clients how to arrange by offering evening classes with their clients. Some might think that this would hurt sales – those customers won't need to buy flowers any more. They will be able to make their own. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Because not only did they attend the classes, but they talked about the classes (and the shop that provided them) to every one of their friends and families. Suddenly, they became the talk around the dinner table – as much as the centerpiece itself did.

And another example goes back to my cleaning specialist client. In his newsletter, he gave away his secret cleaning recipe. That's right just gave it away to all of his customers. How crazy could he be? Now instead of calling him when they have a small stain that needs to be cleaned, they can go to any thrift or grocery store and get the ingredients to mix up his special homemade cleaning agent and NOT have to call him to come out.

But wait . . . Do you think when it's the grime builds up on their carpets or tile floors, they will call someone else? Absolutely not. And do you think they will share this information and where they got it from with their neighbors. You better believe it. So without spending a dime, this client of mine has taken his customers from just being one time customers to now being truly fans of his business and the testimonials and referrals just come streaming in.

So, by moving beyond just providing your product and service when and where you clients want or need it, and beginning to understand your clients bigger concerns and issues as well as becoming an expert source for your clients, you are well on your way from just having one time customers to having cheerleaders and raving fans that will grow your business faster and more effectively than any other form of marketing out there.

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