6 Tips for Exceptional Customer Service

Fotolia_50378128_XS_3In business you should never underestimate the importance of customer service. Providing exceptional levels of customer service is a very good way to differentiate your business from your competition.I will always do business with a company that provides me with good customer service in preference to one which does not; even if I have to pay a little more for the product that I want.

When I buy something I want to be confident that if I have a problem with it then there will be no problem. All the best companies will take a problem like that and deal with it, making my life as easy as possible for the customer and that’s what I want every time.

So if you’re keen to ensure that your business is providing good customer service, what factors do you need to consider? Well you could start with the following:-

  1. Polite, Courteous and Friendly

Your frontline staff will play a huge part in creating good service. If staff are polite, courteous and friendly to me when I walk into a store then we are off to a very good start and I am much more likely to spend my money in that store.

All customers like to be treated with respect and they like to feel valued. Therefore the message your frontline staff need to convey to customers is that they appreciate the importance of the customer and that they recognize that without customers they wouldn’t have a job. Staff must show customers that they understand that they are there to ensure that the customer has a great experience every time.

So you need to recruit staff with the right attitude and personality and you then have to ensure that they are well trained in the customer service values you want to promote within your business. Get it right and your business will do well; get it wrong and your business will struggle.

  1. Caring

Customers must be in no doubt that your frontline staff care about the in-store experience and making sure it is the best possible experience for customers. If staff show me they care about me then I’m much more likely to spend my money buying your products and services. Give me even a hint that your business doesn’t really care and I am likely to leave the store as quickly as possible without spending a penny. I will then checkout your competition. And of course, once you lose a customer it is very difficult to get that customer back again.

  1. Pleasant and helpful

The customer experience is so much better if the sales assistant or store associate is pleasant and helpful. If it all seems like it’s too much trouble for them then I find that a big turn-off. And if it all seems like too much trouble then I will leave without buying anything. Conversely if I sense that people are keen to ensure my needs are met to my complete satisfaction then I will not only spend but I will return again and again

When my son was a small boy I used to walk him to a local store on a Sunday to buy a newspaper. One Sunday my normal store didn’t have my preferred newspaper. So I went to another store further along the same road. The lady in that store was kind, extremely helpful and she made my son feel very special too. From that point on I bought my newspaper in her store. Then I had to walk past my previous store each week but I valued the higher level of service so I was prepared to do that regardless. Result? She gained a customer and the other store lost a customer.

  1. Responsive

When a customer has a problem with a product or is unhappy in some other way then they expect your staff to respond willingly to their needs. They expect your staff to take their complaint seriously and they want it resolved with the minimum of inconvenience to them.

If you fail to take my complaint seriously I will not only be unhappy and unlikely to do business with you again. I will also broadcast my problem and your lack of a proper response on social media. And that can damage your brand and result in even more lost customers.

However get it right and I will sing your praises on social media. Now tell me, which one of those scenarios do you prefer?

  1. Efficient

If I have a problem I expect it to be dealt with efficiently. That means the problem should be resolved completely to my satisfaction, it should be done quickly and of course with the minimum of inconvenience to me.

  1. Prompt

I hate being kept waiting, particularly in queues which are far too long and moving too slowly. I don’t expect to be seen instantly but I am not prepared to wait more than a few minutes. I will leave very quickly if I think it’s all taking longer than it reasonably should.

So you need to get your staffing levels right and you need to ensure that each customer is dealt with promptly. Mess customers around and make them wait too long and you’ll lose them.

That’s my six tips for today. So are these all the qualities your business will need in order to provide good customer service? Probably not but they would represent a good start if you can get them right.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

How to maintain a successful business

Fotolia_64827472_XS_3For a business to be successful you must have an established base of customers who have some reason to love your business and who will keep coming back because they love your business. It may be the great products and services you have to offer or it may be the exceptional customer service and ease with which they can do business with your company. They may like the personality of your company or they may like the well-trained and polite staff you employ. Whatever it is, you should know what it is. And you should always keep your eye on that ball.

If you’re in business you should always remember what it is that you do that your customers love about your company. Don’t lose sight of that magic ingredient that influences customers to do business with you rather than your competitors. Essentially this is your company’s unique selling proposition (USP). It is the factor that differentiates your business from your competition.

The problem is that many businesses start off by doing one thing really well and this attracts loyal customers. Then before too long they turn into something else without ever having made a deliberate decision to do so. These businesses simply evolve into something else. They lose sight of what their customers considered special about them and in the process they throw away their competitive advantage. And of course once it is lost competitive advantage can be very hard to regain.

The trick is to keep asking this question; what do our customers like about us? Why do they keep coming back? What makes us special? Know the answers and make sure you keep giving your customers what they want. Never allow your business to evolve into something that will alienate your loyal customers.

In fact you should never just allow your business to evolve at all. Any change to your business should be on the basis of a reasoned strategy that offers your customers something more than they are being offered now. Even then you should retain that magic ingredient, if that is what is bringing customers to your door. Happy customers will return again and again; unhappy customers will look elsewhere to meet their needs.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

5 Fundamental Rules of Business

Business cloudAsk any successful entrepreneur for their top five fundamental rules of business and I am sure you will get a different list each time. I was asked this question recently, so here is the response I gave my inquisitor at the time:-

1. If you don’t look after the customer, someone else will.

2. Nothing is gained by winning an argument but losing a customer.

3. Always deliver what you promise. If in doubt, under-promise and over-deliver.

4. Always treat customers as you would like to be treated.

5. Your brand is important. It is your reputation as much as anything else. And the reputation of the whole company is in the hands of each individual. You must ensure they know this, constantly.

If I were to give one piece of advice you should take away from this post it would be; the customer should be at the centre of everything you do. Always, always, always think customer!

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

How to Manage in Business

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How to Manage in BusinessIs it your job to manage a business? I am sure what follows may seem obvious to experienced business managers but I will say it anyway. If you’re the boss then there will be lots of things going on in your business that you don’t know about. There will also be plenty of people who will be trying very hard to ensure that you don’t find out. However it’s your job to know what’s going on. Remember, you are there to manage, are you not? That’s what you’re being paid to do.

It is difficult to manage anything if you are ignorant of the facts. Obviously, if something goes wrong in the business the buck stops at your desk. Excuses based on being unaware of the facts are never acceptable and they only serve to make you look completely out of touch with what’s going on. In fact let’s be truthful, they make you look incompetent.

Your job is to know the business inside out. Therefore you must ensure that you make every effort to know what’s going on. That means putting yourself about a bit every single day. You manage by walking around, talking to people and asking awkward questions. If you walk around asking questions then you’ll have a better chance of knowing what’s going on and finding out things others would prefer you not to know.

It is true that most people are honest and they just want to do a decent job. However if people think no one is looking and/or no one cares, then temptation can lead people to acts of dishonesty. Whether that’s stealing your time for which they are being paid or stealing money or your stock, even good people can yield to temptation.

And then of course there could be other dubious practices going on. How about people cutting corners leading to poor quality products? Poor quality leads to lost customers. How about poor customer service? That would lead to even more lost customers. Lose too many customers and you won’t have a business to manage. You’ll be out of a job and so will many other good people too.

The bottom line is that if you don’t take great care in looking after your interests and those of the business then it is only a matter of time before someone will decide to take advantage of the situation. So walk around; ask questions and don’t allow yourself to be fobbed off with meaningless responses to your questions. Keep probing until you are satisfied that you understand what’s going on.

Keep your eye on the ball or pretty soon there won’t be a ball. Someone will have run off with it. Sad but true I’m afraid.

If walking around is not currently part of your routine, when will you start to make it a daily habit?

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© Roy J Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Secret to business success

Diagram of successI am often asked what I believe to be the key ingredient to success in business. There are many ingredients needed, of course. However one ingredient is crucial, if you are to have any chance of success. That ingredient is sheer determination. The most successful business people always have a determination to make things happen. You have to believe in what you’re doing and you have to able to make other people believe in what you are doing. You have to concentrate on your goals and you must be focused at all times. And you never accept an answer unless it’s the one you want. Don’t let people fob you off with excuses or inferior outcomes. Always challenge assumptions being made. Can they withstand scrutiny? Be passionate about what you’re doing and keep pushing until you get what you want. Business is business; there’s nothing personal. Be polite with people always but be very assertive too. You need to have a very steely core. If people say, “I’m sorry, it can’t happen!” then your response must be, “I’m sorry but it has to happen!” Nothing else will do. Remember, it’s your business and if you don’t drive it forward then no one else will do it for you. And never trust anyone unless they have as much to lose as you.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The dangers of debt

Financial RecoveryIn business debt can be a useful tool if used correctly. However, as with everything in life, there has to be some balance. It can be very dangerous for a firm to carry too much debt. Why? That is because when recession strikes growth and profitability might plunge. With equity if profitability goes then you have no obligation to pay a dividend to shareholders. However with debt there is an obligation to service interest payments regardless of how well your business is performing. If your business is struggling to meet interest payments then it might be forced to take on more debt and/or renegotiate existing debt. If the company’s debt burden starts rising then it will struggle even more in hard times. Ideally you should aim for net cash on the company balance sheet or alternatively only low levels of debt. However good the good times are; they won’t last forever. Eventually the economic bad times will return and that is when you will appreciate your company not being overly burdened with debt.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

8 Tips for Entrepreneurs (Part 2)

Solution vs Problem Solving - Business ConsultingIn Part 1 of this series (Tips 1 – 4) I said that running a small business is not a whole lot different to running a large business. The difference is just one of scale. The key issues are much the same.

Here are Tips 5 to 8 in the series:-

5.   Charge sensible prices

It is easy when you’re a small business to undervalue your products and your time. The result is that you undercharge for what you have to offer. This is particularly true when professionals are selling their expertise and time on the basis of a consultancy arrangement. It’s common for first-timers to lack the confidence to charge what they might perceive to be a high rate for their services.

The problem is that selling things cheaply can be counter-productive because customers then think they are getting an inferior product or service and can be put off. Price can often be used as a proxy measure for quality when your business is being judged.

You have to be very business-like when considering the pricing of your products and services. So look at what your competitors are charging and then analyse where you think your products and services fit into the market. If you struggle with that idea then you can always seek guidance from someone else, like a fellow business owner or your accountant. However you must always remember that you must believe in your products and services. If you don’t then why should anyone else? So you must project confidence. If you don’t have the courage of your convictions then the chances are that your business will never succeed. Believe in yourself and charge what you’re really worth. Sell yourself on the basis of the value you bring.

6.   Make the best use of technology

Sometimes small business owners think that because they are small they can act in a small way. Donald Trump would tell you that that is not true and on that point I agree with him. For instance investing in up-to-date technology like the right phone system and websites do not have to be expensive but they can be the difference between a customer contacting you or not.

These days no business, large or small, can operate without a website. And that website needs to be as user-friendly as it possibly can be. Make sure your website provides customers and potential customers with the opportunity to sign up for a regular email newsletter. And offer them encouragement so they do sign up. Make sure your telephone system allows customers to reach you at their first attempt. Certainly customers won’t make too many attempts to call you before they will simply go elsewhere. If you don’t know how to do all this yourself then go on a course or seek guidance from someone with the right expertise. Good communications will pay handsome dividends over time.

7.   Set goals

You have to know what it is you’re trying to achieve, if you are to have any chance of successfully achieving it. Never set your sights too low either. Set yourself a challenge and then put all your energy into achieving it.

Once you’ve set a goal then you need to establish a plan as to how it is going to be achieved. For instance if your goal is to achieve a certain level of turnover over the next year, you have to break that down into the small steps you will need to take for it to be achieved. How many sales will you need to achieve each day, each week and each month? What implications will those sales targets have for production? Do you have enough sales staff to generate that amount of business? And so on. Always create a plan and review it regularly making adjustments as and when necessary.

8.   If you got a great idea then do something with it

How many great ideas never see the light of day because the person with the idea fails to do anything about it? And how many times does someone with an idea see someone else come along with the same idea and beat them to market? Procrastination stops many entrepreneurs from cashing in on a great idea. Don’t let this be you.

If you’re waiting for the perfect time to do anything you will be waiting for the rest of your life. Now is always the perfect time. Don’t wait until you think the economy will be better or your children have left home or some other arbitrary barrier. The right time to start your business is right now. So go for it. Yes you will make mistakes. You won’t get everything right first time. You will not become an instant millionaire. However by getting started you will be heading in the right direction and you will learn along the way. Hard work combined with implementing good ideas will get you there eventually.

That concludes this short series. It was not intended as a comprehensive guide for entrepreneurs but I hope the tips presented will help you in your quest for business success. Good luck.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

8 Tips for Entrepreneurs (Part 1)

Solution vs Problem Solving - Business ConsultingRunning a small business is not a whole lot different to running a large business. The only real difference is one of scale. The key issues are always the same. So here are some tips for would-be entrepreneurs:-

1.   Control your costs

Money comes into your business and money goes out. It’s that simple. However fail to ensure that the former is always greater than the latter and trouble will follow at some point, whatever the size of your business. A bigger business might be able to weather the storm a bit longer but the consequences will be the exactly same. Keep losing money and eventually your business will go bust. Take every opportunity to maximize your revenue and always keep your costs as low as you can. Don’t spend money unless it is absolutely necessary. Ask yourself, do I really need to spend this money? What will I get in return? Can I achieve the same result at less or even no cost? It might surprise you to learn how frequently it is possible to avoid cost, whilst still doing all the things big businesses do. The key message here is that you must keep an iron-grip on cost and you must manage the flow of money.

2.   Do your own market research

Every product should solve a problem for your customer and you should have some idea of what that problem is and how your product will solve it relative to the products offered by your competition. Just because you think you’ve got a great product, doesn’t mean you have. Your opinion means nothing if there are not enough people willing to buy your product at the price you’re trying to charge for it. If your product won’t sell then potentially your business could be in trouble. Perhaps you think you’ve spotted a gap in the market? If it’s a genuine gap then you might be on to a winner. However a gap in the market doesn’t always guarantee that there is a market within that gap. Maybe there’s a reason for the gap which you’ve yet to understand. In business, the trick is to find out what people really want and then offer it to them. How do you find that out? Why not simply ask them yourself? Not just your family and friends, they’ll be far too polite to give you any meaningful feedback. Talk to customers and potential customers. You can always conduct some of your own market research in your local shopping mall, or wherever you think your target customers might congregate. Identify some basic questions, stand there with a clipboard and just start asking people. Often they will be far more helpful than you might expect. And you can always use the Internet too. Search engines like Google have keyword search tools which are free to use. These tools allow you to get a ‘rough and ready’ measure of what people are searching for and how frequently. Market research doesn’t have to be expensive. As a small business entrepreneur it is possible to do it yourself. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this activity but it is essential that you do it. Your results might not be quite as scientific as those produced by the professional market research people but they will provide you with a rough guide and that will be good enough in the first instance.

3.   Advertising costs money: is there a better way?

It is true that visibility for your business and your product is essential. You might have the best product in the world but it won’t sell if potential customers have no idea that it exists. So how do you ensure that customers have visibility of your product? At this point most people might respond by saying advertising. Well advertising is an obvious solution but it can be an expensive one too. One small advert in the back of a glossy magazine can cost you a lot of money and yet you have to ask yourself whether that would be money well spent? How often do you notice the small adverts in the back of magazines? In my case, the answer is not very often. With so many adverts competing for my attention I tend to filter them all out. So, if you’re not careful, money spent on advertising can be money wasted. A better approach might be to use some creative thinking with a focus on public relations. Smart entrepreneurs know that business is show business. It’s all about getting noticed. For example the entrepreneur Richard Branson is a brilliant exponent at getting media attention at little or no cost to his business. It helps that he’s a likeable guy but he’s also clever and creative in his approach. If you have an interesting back story perhaps the local press, local radio or even television might be willing to run a story on you and your business and the products you have to offer? Social media is powerful means for gaining attention for your business. Social media is also a useful way of driving traffic to your company’s website. And make sure that your company website is suitably optimized for search engines. You need to appear on the first page of a Google search if there is to be any chance of anyone noticing you and your business. Make sure you offer visitors to your company website the opportunity for signing up to a regular email newsletter. Give them an incentive to sign up. This could be a free report or perhaps a discount code for one of your products. How about running a competition using your company’s fan page on Facebook or your company website? The price of say a smartphone or a Kindle or other electronic device would be cheaper than the cost of a small advert in a glossy magazine but it’s more likely to get noticed and it will probably generate a lot more excitement. If you have a car or van; it can be emblazoned with your company logo, your website details and product information. That is then free advertising as you’re driving around. Park it at a big event attended by thousands of people and you’re beginning to master the art of guerrilla marketing. Creative thinking and public relations can produce powerful results in your quest for visibility at a fraction of the cost of advertising. The key message is; be creative.

4.   Don’t make yourself indispensable

The biggest mistake any entrepreneur or business manager can make is to think that every decision should be made by them. If you’ve started a business from scratch you tend to form an emotional bond with it. It becomes your baby and you become very protective of it. That is natural but as the business grows you will have so many things to do that you couldn’t possibly do them all. You could try, of course. However if you try to do everything you’ll find yourself falling behind in key areas like product sourcing, sales and keeping your accounts up to date. Fall behind and it becomes very hard to catch up. Potentially it is also very damaging for the business. So you have to learn the art of delegation. A good start would be to document every task and process within the business and then create an Operations Manual. This can include everything from the preferred method for answering the phone to completing invoices and dealing with complaints. It can include the degree of flexibility which you are delegating to staff, so they can get on with basic tasks allowing you to get on with those activities which are much more important for achieving business success. No business should be dependent solely on one person. If it is and that person gets hit by a bus then obviously the business would be in serious trouble very quickly. Delegate basic activities to your staff and you can be sure that the business will continue to function even when you’re not around. It will also give you a bit more thinking time for steering to the company towards bigger and better things. The key message here is that you must delegate. Never delude yourself into thinking that only you can do a particular task.

That concludes the first part of this article. In Part 2, I will look at issues around pricing, technology, goal-setting and new ideas.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Always meet and exceed expectations

Fotolia_50378128_XS_3Regular readers will have been expecting a post to the Biz section of my blog yesterday. I do apologise but I decided to delay this post for a day to emphasize a very important business principle. That is if you want to succeed in business you have to deliver what you say you will deliver and it has to be delivered when you say you will deliver it. You must meet and, where possible, exceed customer expectations. Under-promise and over-deliver and customers will love you; the converse will result in everyone being seriously unimpressed with you. Fail to meet customer expectations too many times and inevitably you will lose customers. And that’s bad for business of course. Provide customers with great products and good customer service then they will be always forgiving but only to a degree. If you mess them around one too many times they will simply take their business elsewhere. Always remember that old adage; the customer is king. So you have to treat the customer with courtesy and respect, in the same way that you would any sovereign ruler or head of state. Failing to meet customer expectations is to show a lack of respect. Remember business is not always about money. Saving money here and there by trying to deal with your customers on the cheap is a strategy which would be counter-productive. If making money is your sole aim then you are unlikely to make very much at all. However if you believe in what you’re doing and you love what you’re doing then putting the customer at the centre of everything you do will come naturally to you. Love your customers, treat them well, meet their expectations and you will be well on your way to business success.

Once again, I apologise Dear Reader for the delay in this post. Clearly on this occasion I failed to deliver punctually. By using this delay to emphasize a point, I hope I’m forgiven this once. However I recognise that you probably operate on a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ basis, so I will be very, very careful in future. Thank you for your patience.

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

How to succeed in business

SolutionSome people can make business seem awfully complicated at times. And yet actually, it’s really quite simple. Essentially business is about solving problems for people. It’s that simple. Well it is if you want to make money at it. Sometimes you might spot a gap in the market. This means there is a problem which has yet to be solved. All you have to do is find a solution. This is a great place to be, if you can find it, because you have the chance to be innovative and no competition means you can make very good margins too. So if you spot a gap in the market, go for it. However don’t worry if there is already a product on the market providing a solution for the problem you have in mind. Just because a product exists that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to solve that problem. The early bird might get the worm but the second mouse still has a chance to get the cheese.

As the old saying goes, build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door. Innovation is the way your business can stand out from the crowd. Clever products, well designed, providing great value for money. If you’re in business, look at products in your niche currently on offer and see if you can improve on them. It’s never too late to produce a new design for an existing product or a new way to do something.

The key message here is to consider the products you have to offer and make sure you understand which problems they solve for your customers. How do those products compare with the competition? And is there any room for further innovation to make it better or cheaper or both. To succeed in business you need to be innovative but, above all, you really must be solving problems for people. Fail to do that and your business won’t last long. However if you can do it well, providing innovation, quality and real value for money, then business success will be yours. If you’re looking for a business role model, then Apple would be a good place to start in my view. They lead the way in their field and have done consistently over many years. They even manage to make their products seem really cool. They manage to give them a ‘must have’ quality too. Now how good is that?

© RJ Sutton and Mann Island Media Limited 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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