Februar y/March 2014
KERN BUSINESS JOURNAL
Company HR tips
Customer service gives companies competitive edge By Holly Culhane
ood customer service can yield incredible rewards – even sometimes beyond the grave. Most successful local small businesses recognize the need to provide good customer service. The “extra touches” they offer can give local businesses an edge when competing with national retailers and manufacturers. But a recent story I was told was both stunning and eye-opening when it came to the rewards a company can realize for providing good customer service. A veteran husband-and-wife real estate team has made giving good customer service an everyday habit. Their clients become life-long friends and in some cases family. Relationships do not end with a “sold” sign and the payment of a commission. Often clients become return customers. And when help is needed, the Realtor couple is always willing to oblige. Old clients call when they need to find a new gardener or housekeeper. If a crisis, such as flood or fire, occurs they are there with recommendations for temporary housing and contractors. They do not expect payment for their customer service; rather, they Holly Culhane hope they will get return business and referrals. Plus, they actually like their clients and enjoy helping them. But a few months ago, even they were stunned by the returns they started receiving from some of their aging clients. One by one -- for a total of five clients, so far – clients have left instructions for their heirs to sell their property upon their deaths and give the real estate listings to their long-time friends. “I had never heard of this happening before this,” the Realtor wife said, adding that she’s honored to be recognized. “I guess we have been doing something right all these years.” Likely most local small businesses will not be mentioned in their customers’ wills. But they can strive for a lifetime of customer loyalty in return for good customer service. No doubt it takes more than personal service to attract customers. Even independent small businesses must offer competitive prices and quality products to compete. But customers will patronize a small, locally-owned hardware store, for example, if they can find odd-ball nuts and bolts and the expert advice on how to attach them. Big-box stores often cannot provide this level of personal service. Good customer service doesn’t “just happen.” It takes: • A commitment and example from the top. Customers and staff will recognize when a business owner is committed to providing good service to customers. • Careful staffing. Hire employees who understand the need to provide good customer service and who will share the commitment. Establish written policies that emphasize company goals, making good customer service a top priority. • Listening to customers. Good customer service is a conversation. Understand what customers need and want. Provide it. • Consistency. Provide good service in good times and in bad times; to agreeable customers and disagreeable ones. Be open to both praise and complaints. Build on what you are doing right and correct problems when they occur. Good customer service is not just a slogan on the wall or a line in a company’s advertising. To be a reality, it must become a company’s culture. Holly Culhane is president of the Bakersfield-based human resources consulting firm P.A.S. Associates and P.A.S. Investigations. She can be contacted through her website www. PASassociates.com and through the P.A.S. Facebook page.
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Kern Business Journal February/March 2014