'Tis the Season (for P#ss@d Off Customers) - Slide 2

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Provide an individual care approach for your customers. For example, someone shopping with children will have very different needs from, say, an elderly couple shopping for gifts for their grandkids. Therefore, you must train your customer service people to recognize these key differences and adjust their responses accordingly.

“Teach service employees to understand the context of a situation and to sympathize with customers,” says Kuzmeski. “For example, they might give the kids something to keep them occupied so mom can focus on shopping. Meanwhile, the employees might keep a close eye on the elderly couple in case they need any extra help looking at a product on a high shelf. When your customer service people are attentive and proactive, often they can solve a problem before it becomes one.”

It’s that special season again: the season of crowded stores, whiny kids, irritable customers, and stressed-out employees. If you’re a business owner—in any industry but especially in the retail segment—the holidays are a precarious time. When fuses are short and wallets are shrinking, customers expect great service, says author Maribeth Kuzmeski. Fail to provide it, or fail to instantly implement a recovery plan on those occasions when you do drop the ball, and you may find yourself experiencing a not-so-merry 2011.

“Every business owner knows things will go wrong from time to time,” says Maribeth Kuzmeski, author of the book …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want and The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life. “It’s how you handle these episodes that counts. And at the holidays, the stakes are higher.

“People have higher expectations and a lower tolerance for mistakes,” she adds. “Combine that with distracted employees and larger-than-usual crowds, and it’s the perfect winter storm, so to speak. Without a good service recovery plan, you can easily lose the disgruntled customer, everyone she knows, and possibly a lot of people she doesn’t know if she takes her tale to cyberspace.”

According to Kuzmeski, many companies spend tons of money and time on big customer service initiatives in order to woo new customers—but they end up losing their regular customers over little things. When you consider the 80/20 rule—a maxim stating that most businesses get 80 percent of their revenue from 20 percent of their existing client base—it’s clear that you can’t afford to let that happen.

The solution, says Kuzmeski, is to a) stave off disasters by taking some commonsense preventive measures and b) develop some service recovery techniques and make sure everyone who interacts with your customers knows them. She offers the following advice:

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