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Adventures In Customer Service

Big companies do it.  Small companies do it.  But most companies don’t do it: Make customer service a strategic advantage.

LL Bean does back flips to make sure orders are delivered on time, even when their contractors do not.  Amazon takes returns, within a certain time frame, no questions asked, and processes refunds when promised. Most small retail stores will order customers other sizes, even if the item is on sale.  The local wine shop next door will find your preferred wine and order it for you even if they don’t currently carry the vintage.  A single-location coffee shop knows the names of its regular customers and offers free cups with every $10 they spend.

Customer service is the number one reason that companies like LL Bean and Amazon have grown and flourished so successfully. LL Bean is a family-owned business with more than $1 billion in revenue. Amazon is a publicly-traded company with revenues above $25 billion.  There’s proof that companies can grow very large with customer service as their cornerstone, whether they are public or private.

Research shows that 50% of small businesses last 4 years or more.  This is across all industries and across all reasons  (including mergers and acquisitions).  The neighborhood boutique, wine store and coffee shop are all independently-owned small businesses that have lasted more than a decade while businesses around them have come and gone.  Proof again that customer service works, even for small companies.

Why is it, then, that so many companies don’t even have a customer service strategy? Or if they do, it is based on the assumption that unhappy customers can always be replaced?  Adventures in customer service happen every day!

The number one reason for poor customer service is cost cutting. Companies can cut customer service agents if they hide their contact information well enough and make it extremely time consuming, complicated and unpleasant for unhappy customers to reach them. For example, have you ever tried to call an Internet service provider and gotten: “Press 1 if you are a new customer, press 2 if…press 9 if…press 3 if…” Pressing 0 to reach an agent doesn’t work. Eventually you call back and find yourself in a circular series of instructions, never reaching an agent.  There may be only one thing to do. Switch carriers. But how do you know if your new company is investing in customer service?

Every company should have a customer service strategy. How are you going to treat customers? How are you going to track recurring customers and customer referrals. Those are the best ways to track whether your strategy is working.  A high level of customer churn may mean you need to rethink your strategy.

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Amanda Weathersby’s business Entrepology provides business analysis and forecasts to help companies seek funding, sell their companies, and merge with or acquire companies. Amanda has worked as a business consultant for multinational companies, for startups and for small businesses. She has taught entrepreneurship classes for five years.  The Weathersby Group (TWG) was Amanda’s first venture, created in 1990. The company provided consulting and staffing to high tech businesses in Washington, DC, Boston and New York. It grew to $15 million in revenue by 2000, when the company was sold to a publicly traded company. You can view her profile HERE.

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