Like many people, I like to use small local businesses whenever I can. I sometimes find them via local publications or on social media. However, very often people discover small businesses, freelancers and tradespeople through word of mouth recommendations. Those recommendations don’t happen unless you deliver quality customer service.
Through word of mouth (and online), I’ve found many businesses which I may not have otherwise heard about. I’ve also enjoyed excellent goods and services from these businesses. However, this is not always the case! I’ve have also experienced a total lack of quality customer service from plenty of places.
Here are a few tips to ensure you don’t become that business that people are talking about for all the wrong reasons. Some of this advice may sound basic or obvious, but plenty of businesses make these mistakes every day:
If there is a specific date when a customer requires your service, make sure you can deliver. If, for whatever reason, you have to cancel, make sure you let the customer know as soon as you possibly can – and arrange a suitable alternative with them too!
When you do need to contact your customer, be as certain as you can that they have received the message; A phone call is always the best option, but if you have to send a message electronically, it’s worth sending it to all the contact details you have, in order to be as certain as possible that the message has been received. If you are unable to make a call immediately, ensure that you follow up the message as soon as you can.
Quality Customer Service 101! Prepare for the Unexpected!
Say, for example, that your service involves outdoor work such as a gardening or decorating. In that case you’ll always need to check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
If you have lawn mowing or other outdoor jobs to do, and the forecast is poor, you’ll want to rearrange your diary and get those jobs done earlier in the week.
This may also mean you might have to work a longer day. However, most people are pretty amenable to a change if you organise it early. They would certainly prefer you did that than not turn up at all!
This also avoids you building up a backlog of jobs that need to wait for an improvement in the weather.
Check, Check and Check Again!
Check your diary first thing every single day, and deal with any issues as early as you can.
If you think you might have over stretched yourself or may be late then be honest and let your customers know. Most people would far rather know early in the day and plan accordingly.
Leaving a customer “in the dark” when they may have taken a day off from their own work to accommodate you is NOT quality customer service!
Always have your phone with you, so you can get back to people as quickly as possible. Make sure you have a polite and informative answerphone message if answering a call is not feasible at any time.
Most phones have a diary function and use of this is essential if people want to book in repeat business while you are there. Make sure you update this regularly each day to avoid double booking yourself.
Have a Backup Plan
Always have a backup plan, and contingencies in place for emergencies.
If you usually stop work at 3pm to do the school run, have a good friend or relative on standby in case your work runs over. It’s never good to leave a job unfinished – especially if you don’t know when you will be able to return to complete it.
Can you Deliver?
Don’t take on jobs you can’t realistically handle. If you started small, it will feel exciting to take on your first “big job”. But do be sure you can actually deliver.
Over stretching yourself, particularly when starting a new venture, can be disastrous. This can cause huge ongoing problems, especially once word gets around. (And, believe me, in a small town this is inevitable).
As I have mentioned previously, with the popularity of social media one bad review can spell disaster for you and do irreparable damage to your reputation – even if you were previously known for quality customer service.
Quote Promptly and Realistically
In the early days of a new business it is very tempting to charge a bit less to get new clients. This is something also discussed in this article from HomeWorkingClub.com’s founder).
However, this is something to be really careful about. Offering incentives and cheaper rates once you are established may be fine, but when you are starting out it’s rarely something you should be doing.
Make sure your quote is clear and easy to understand – and do your research. If you are providing materials, be sure that you can get them for the price quoted, otherwise additional costs will eat into your profit. Also ensure that any products or materials you need are available and can be easily obtained.
Suddenly realising you are going to have to travel miles out of your way to fulfil a customer’s requests can be costly both financially, and in terms of the additional time you will need to complete a job.
Sometimes having to cancel or postpone a job will be beyond your control. But ensuring you have backup plans in place for as many situations as possible will ensure you provide quality customer service and reduce the risk of you tarnishing a good reputation.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you get a request to do something you have never done before, be careful before committing – unless you’re absolutely positive that you can produce work of a good standard.
Take advantage of friends and family when you want to try out new ideas. A new job for a potential long-term client is not the time to start experimenting!
Take a Course
Many places offer free courses for start-up businesses, providing excellent advice that can be really beneficial, covering areas such as time management, book keeping and invoicing. Take advantage of these whenever you can.
Starting a new business can be both exciting and terrifying! The tips above should help ensure that a reputation for quality customer service helps your business become a success.
For more advice and inspiration, the Starting a Business All-In-One For Dummies book is a great buy.