Sunday, June 6, 2010

Beyond Service with a Smile

In the past couple of weeks, I've had several experiences that illustrate the challenges customers face in the contemporary marketplace.

The first occurred in a fine restaurant at the end of a very enjoyable evening. I asked our waitperson if the front desk could call a cab for us. With a pleasant smile, she answered, "Probably," and walked away. She made no offer to check on our behalf.

The other incident involved an online e-card business. In the process of canceling my subscription to their service, I spent days tracking down a correct phone number, email address, and offline location. When I eventually reached a "real" person, I was warmly informed that her company no longer owned the online portion of the business, and she redirected me to an ineffective automated phone service. Fortunately, I had decided to refrain from any further action.

As you would expect, these stories represent a small portion of my encounters with businesses of all types. Some have been worse, while others were happily much better. You probably have your own favorites.

Instead of focusing on specific details, my intention in using these examples concerns the issue of customer ease. That is, the degree of effortlessness a customer experiences in engaging a business and completing a transaction.

No matter what role you play in a business, or whether your company participates in online or "bricks-and-mortar" activities, the critical question remains:

How easy is it for customers to do business with you?

After you've had a chance to reflect on this broad question, consider ways in which the following specific areas apply to your company:
  • What procedures do you have in place to insure customer ease?
  • Can online (and offline) customers readily find your contact information?
  • Can your customers actually reach you by phone or email?
  • Do you help potential customers decide whether your product or service fits their needs?
  • Is your communication with customers satisfying to them? Do you respond fully to their questions? Are their concerns addressed quickly and resolved smoothly?
  • How easy is it for customers to navigate your website, locate products and services, and meet their needs with your organization?
  • Is your billing organized, straightforward, and clear?
  • Do you offer a simple and supportive return policy? Do you have free shipping?
  • Do you provide a money-back, no-hassles guarantee?
  • Does everyone in the company know how to facilitate a pleasant experience for the customer at each point in their involvement with you?
  • How do you handle difficulties or surprises with customers?
  • And so on . . .
As you can see, these kinds of questions ask you to take the customer's perspective and determine the level of ease in her experience. You're not only concerned about high quality customer service. You're also examining the ways you establish genuine, meaningful rapport that helps the customer feel welcomed, safe, and supported.

With conditions that promote ease, most customers feel more receptive to learn about your products and services.

Of course, the experience of "customer ease" can apply to your life outside of the business world as well. In this way, ask yourself:

How easy is it for people to interact with me?

Explore your current relationships for instances of varying degrees of ease, and identify those you'd like to enhance. Start with less challenging individuals. Then, clarify how you can make changes that will create more ease with those people. With practice, notice how these changes in you will lead to different responses from others . . .

Ease begins with you!

Love and Peace,

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