By John R. Ratliff, Boomerang staff writer
If customer loyalty is so important to businesses, why is good service often so hard to find? Most business owners cite customer loyalty as necessary for achieving their goals, but when humans are involved, things can and do go wrong and expectations are not met. The business-customer relationship can be very fragile, and most businesses will do anything to preserve it. Lee Resource, Inc. estimates that 91 percent of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with the same organization again.
While most of the responsibility for a good customer service experience lies with the business providing the service, there are many things you can do as a consumer to help ensure you get treated well every time.
When customers expect to receive excellent service, they very often do. Likewise, if a customer expects to be disappointed, odds are he will be. As human beings, we tend to try to meet others' expectations of us, positive or negative. Are you inadvertently telling staff that you're willing to take whatever they have to offer? If so, they will probably stop at the minimum to make you happy. On the flip side, if staff feels your expectations for service are unrealistically high, he or she may not try to meet them at all. When you know what it will take to make you happy and make clearly communicate that to the staff, he or she will usually strive to meet your expectations.
Let them know what they do well and not-so-well.
Most customers won't complain to the company when they get bad service; Lee Resource, Inc. estimates that for every customer complaint there are, on average, 26 other customers that have had a similarly negative experience but kept quiet about it. Though we may not tell the business we're unhappy, we certainly will tell our friends. Dissatisfied customers will tell between 9 and 15 people of their negative experiences, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. Customers who have a good experience or who get their issues resolved to their satisfaction will only tell about five people. Similarly, even fewer customers will tell a business what they are doing right. If someone does right by you, thank them in person, write a letter, e-mail the business owner or head office, or make a post on their social media pages describing your positive experience.
Attracting a new customer costs about five times as much as keeping an existing one, and the probability of selling something to a new customer is 1 in 16, as compared to 1 in 2 for an existing customer. Businesses know that loyal customers referring their friends is the most cost-effective way to attract new customers, so they will tend to reward customers who do so with the best service possible.
Be willing to negotiate.
Though it may sometimes be hard to believe, businesses want to make you happy. There is a lot in it for them if they do. According to Harris Interactive, 60 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a better experience. Ruby Newell-Legner, author of "Understanding Customers" estimates that it takes 12 positive service experiences to make up for one negative experience. Eastbridge consulting group says that 70 percent of complaining customers will come back if the business resolves a negative situation issue in their favor.
If you are dissatisfied, know what it would take to make you happy and make those wishes clear. Don't be afraid to ask for what you think is fair, whether it be a refund, replacement, free product, credit toward future purchases, an apology, etc. Then, listen to what the staff offers and, if it's reasonable, take it. If it's not, make a counter offer. Be willing to compromise, without compromising your standards. This will also make them more likely to go farther to make you happy next time there is a problem.
Be a demanding customer.
If a company's standards appear to be slipping, let management know so they can fix it. You have the power as a consumer to take your business elsewhere, but a company you know - and who knows you - is much more likely to meet your needs than one with which you have no relationship. Customer service expert Shep Hyken advises businesses that to achieve customer loyalty, they have to give the customer great service and the confidence that they will always get great service. He says businesses should strive to create demanding customers: "Your goal should be to be so good at what you do that if your customers were to go to your competitor and ask for the same level of service, your competitors would find the customer demanding."
The business-customer relationship takes a long time and a lot of effort by both sides to create and foster. The first step to getting good customer service is being a good customer. Communicate openly and honestly in good and bad situations, and the business will find ways to thank you. "People think customer loyalty is about a lifetime," Hyken adds. "It isn't. Customer loyalty is about the next time - every time."
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