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Customer Service – Your Competitive Advantage by Thrity Engineer-Mbuthia

Customer Service – Your Competitive Advantage by Thrity Engineer-Mbuthia

Who is a customer?

A customer is a person or a group of people who typically need or wish to purchase a product, service or idea from another person or group of people also known as a seller or an organization in business. This purchase is usually accompanied by an exchange or a consideration, most often in the form of money.

For any SME there are two important things to reflect on when it comes to customers:  Customer acquisition and Customer retention. Both are equally important depending on the life stage of the business. A start-up would be keen on getting customers, and as it grows it continues looking for new customers. What businesses then forget is customer retention.  There is a principle called the Pareto principle. It states that 80% of the business is from 20% of customers.  Do a cross-check of your business and see if this principle holds. It can only be verified if you have consistent customers or what marketers refer to as repeat customers. The Pareto principle, therefore, means it is easier to retain customers than to look for new ones. It is also less expensive to focus on customer retention rather than customer acquisition.

Having said all this, the secret to both acquisition and retention is great customer service. Now customer service tends to sit under a much larger umbrella of customer experience – which is everything that impacts a customer and their feelings, behavior, and the relationship between the business and the customer.

For now, let us focus on great customer service. According to Professor Robert Hinson in his book Customer Service Essentials, there are five basic wants from customers. These are consistent service, value-based pricing, quality, appreciation, and a need for customer care.

Consistent service – is something all businesses need to strive towards. Attaining consistency is about being able to replicate the service/product to be the same every single time. If you are selling chocolates, it needs to be the same. If you are selling shoes, deliver on time every time. As an SME, delivery can be outsourced to riders or boda-boda delivery men. What happens when they arrive at the customer’s premises? Are they friendly? Or is one grumpy and the other is friendly? Do they know the customer’s name every time? Find a way to work with the same people who are able to be extensions of your consistent service.

Value-based pricing – in today’s world, the customer is spoilt for choice. Competitors are waiting in the wings, ready to grab your customers and steal them away from you. Price is often used to lure customers away. Price is different from value. Provide a price but provide value as well so that price becomes secondary and your customer stays with you.

Quality – everyone wants quality products and services. Do not attempt to cheat your customers by selling them sub-standard items. They will never come back. I recently bought food flasks and they didn’t even keep food hot for two hours. Very disappointing since the seller had nothing but praises for them.

Appreciation – who doesn’t love being appreciated? A kind word for the customer, a small surprise token perhaps? There is this restaurant that has perfected this, by bringing the customer the bill and giving them tiny inexpensive gifts to say thank you for being a customer there. Such things really tend to go the extra mile to ensuring customer loyalty.

Customer care – is probably one of the areas that SMEs get muddled about. Whose responsibility is this customer care? The simple answer is customer care is the responsibility of every person in that organization. Be it the person who answers the phone to the person delivering the goods, to the boss herself. Choose your team wisely because they will represent your brand name. Guard your reputation jealously because it can be shattered very fast.

Here are a few other things you can consider as a business owner to ensure the highest level of customer service:

  • Ensure your team around you is trained. You can get a trainer to customize a workshop for you. You can find and share articles on customer service with your team members. You can watch You Tube videos on this. There is really no excuse, don’t say you do not have money for training. Invest in training and you will see the difference.
  • Get feedback from your customers. Positive and negative feedback is all useful. Listen intently, apologize if necessary and try to make good where you can. Be open to ideas and criticism. If your customer takes the time to share this with you, they do want you to succeed. If they didn’t care, they would just not bother to show up again.
  • Use social media properly. Social media marketing is not just about posting random posts on your social media page and waiting for customers to find you. Not only is there a science behind it, but customer service on social media platforms is Key. If your Facebook page is integrated with WhatsApp chats, make sure there is someone ready to answer all questions in good time. Appreciate good reviews and follow up on not-so-good reviews.
  • Empower your teams. Allow them to participate in generating ideas on how you can improve customer service. Also, make sure that you take care of your teams. Richard Branson once said, “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers”.

You will get the difficult customer, you will get the customer who seems to delight in making your life hell, you will encounter the customer who makes you go the extra mile and disappoints you – that is not a customer you wish to retain. Let them go, so as to create space for the customer who wants to do business with you.

Remember customer service can be your biggest differentiator. Your customers will stay loyal to you and become your brand advocates. Word of mouth advertising is the most cost-effective method to grow your business. Happy Selling!!

Thrity Engineer-Mbuthia is a marketing professional with over 25 years of experience in corporate and academia. She is also a certified coach helping SMEs through business coaching.

Article writtten by:

Mrs Thrity Engineer- Mbuthia

E: thrity@thrityengineer.org

T: +254 737 700699

Skype: thrity.engineer

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