As a SBDC Consultant, I consider myself a “business nerd,” someone that studies the best practices in business development, marketing and sales to try and offer my clients cutting edge advice to help them successfully start and grow their companies. Because of this, it is intriguing to me when I encounter exceptionally good or bad business practices as a consumer. This takes me to the tale of two corporate giants, an airline company and a consumer electronics company. The intent of the article is not to blast one over the other, but is offered as an educational tool to understand why good customer service is not only important to your customers, but to your employees and business profitability as well.
If you have been following the news recently, the airline industry has been taking a beating with issues of increased ticket prices, charging extra for bags, long security lines, delayed take offs, missed flights, people stuck in airports, mergers, the list goes on and on. As a long-time, satisfied customer of a newly merged airline, at first I was not concerned when my flights were delayed, causing me to miss some connections. I thought it was a fluke, while the two airlines were working out combining their operations. However, after once again being stranded due to a cancelled flight, a delayed connection, mechanical issues and over-bookings, I started researching the airline to see what was going on. What I discovered was that they had one of the worst on-time rates in the industry, a high employee turnover rate and staff that were harried and surly. Perusing the airline’s social media sites, I found many complaints posted by their customers about the poor service, and I did not see any responses from company representatives. It appeared any positive posts were by the company, which led to even more negative posts from their customers.
During my 14 hour wait time, tired and cranky, when I was unable to get information from the non-existent gate staff, I tweeted my requests directed to the airline. After a while someone did respond, but offered no solutions and only verified the information I could obtain off their website. Basically, a non-answer. Will I fly this airline in the future, no. Have I told my friends and family about my poor experiences? Yes. Will it make a difference? Maybe not in the short-term, but possibly in the long-term. Consumers have more choices in the airline industry, competition is fierce, and this airline may not be around in a couple of years.
The next experience I had was with a consumer electronics company. I have a 5-year-old, out of warranty TV located in my family room. My daughter was having a slumber party for her birthday, and that morning she informed me that the TV picture became fuzzy and then no picture at all. After messing with it for a while, I went on-line to research what could be wrong and possible fixes. On the company website, I located the manual, but could not find any information that dealt with my issue. There was a chat button, which I clicked. Instantly I was connected to an operator. After trying several things, it became apparent that the TV was not going to work. I could have become angry, the TV was not that old and quite expensive at the time of purchase, and my daughter was upset because her friends would not be able to watch the movies she had planned for that evening. The customer service representative understood my dilemma and offered me two options: She could send me a list of repair centers that would look at my TV and see if it was worth repairing; or, she could send me a list of newer, refurbished TV’s, at a lower price, and with a limited warranty. My TV was not fixed, but, I was offered a solution, followed up with the information that was promised and later sent a survey to make sure I was a satisfied customer.
Checking the consumer electronic company’s social media sites, I found dozens of posts asking questions about products, complaints about not being able to find replacement parts, and inquiries about warranty issues. Similar to the airline company mentioned above; however, the difference was that a company representative was monitoring the page and responding to the postings. Customers were getting responded to, needs were being met and thus reinforcing the image that the electronics company embraces a company culture that cares about their customers. Will I purchase another product from this company? Most likely. Have I told my friends and family about my experience? Yes I have and I will also recommend them as well.
You may be thinking, but what can I do? I am a small business owner, not a large corporation with a huge budget for customer service. Below are three actions you can take, which will not cost anything but your time developing a plan on how to handle customer complaints:
Empower employees with authority to actually help the customer. Without the authority to offer a solution, the employee becomes ineffective and the customer becomes disgruntled. Poor customer service can result in negative customer reviews, high employee turnover and loss of sales.
Respond to all social media posts in a timely manner. Customers who post on your social media sites are expecting a response. When they do not get a timely response, they can become disgruntled. Additionally, potential customers look at reviews and social media sites to determine if they should conduct business with a company. Bad reviews, no feedback, and little interaction may lead a customer to take their business elsewhere.
Follow up with customers to monitor their satisfaction levels. Try sending a short survey, follow up email or call, to verify that any issues were resolved. Keeping a customer happy will go a long way towards keeping your customers coming back and not moving over to your competition.
Good customer service does not have to cost a lot of money and can go a long way towards keeping customers happy, employee turnover low and increased sales in the long-term. If you need help in developing a customer service strategy, or any other business related question, please contact The University of Georgia SBDC at Athens to schedule a no-cost consulting session with a business consultant or to register for our upcoming GrowSMART program.
(Source: Laura Katz, Area Director, UGA SBDC in Athens)