A few months ago I fired the family dentist we had used for the last ten years. Why would I quit doing business with a company that I had used for the last 10 years? Simple. My dentist quit caring about me!
I used this dentist as he came highly referred for his quality of work. But way beyond that quality I was amazed and impressed by the level of patient care he delivered. He did many small things that set him apart from many others and made me feel as if he truly appreciated my business.
For instance, he sent a welcome gift after our first visit. With every person we referred we received a small thank-you gift. After every office visit he would call that evening to see how we were feeling. It should come as no surprise that he offered a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If for some reason we weren’t satisfied with the work he did, at no charge he would rectify the situation.
He was the model of what every business should be! With the possible exception of his 100% guarantee, the many small things that he did to go the extra mile didn’t really cost a lot of money. But the message he sent to us with those efforts was invaluable.
Was he the least expensive dentist in town? Not by a long shot! But that didn’t matter because the value he provided was worth every penny I paid.
But somewhere along the way he developed a “dis-ease” called complacency. It appears he quit caring about his customers. No longer is his work 100% satisfaction guaranteed at no additional charge. No longer does he call us after an office visit to see how we are doing. No longer does he thank us for referrals. We no longer felt as if he even valued or appreciated our business.
I can only presume that he must have forgotten an important aspect of customer loyalty – creating a long-term plan to keep those customers that he worked so hard to create that relationship.
Every year most utilities set up annual goals and budgets. Most certain there are budgets for maintenance, safety, new construction, labor, equipment and numerous other areas. Unfortunately, a lot fail to create a budget or long-term plan for strengthening customer loyalty.
Consider these ideas in creating your long-term plan for customer loyalty:
Measure Customer Service
Keeping a pulse on customer satisfaction is not a one-time investment. In order to know if you are providing a consistent and high quality level of service, you need to continually ask your customers how are you doing. It is their perception that matters . . . not yours!
- Create a customer satisfaction survey on your web site. Allow them to share suggestions on ways you can improve your service.
- Set up a simple survey that customers can complete at the conclusion of a telephone call. Wouldn’t it be great to know from their point of view what their experience was just like?
PECO Energy in Philadelphia has established a program in which each of its call center representatives in their residential and business sectors is proactively calling 10 customers a month to solicit their feedback on customer service levels. PECO also conducts regular focus groups to obtain customer feedback.
Create a long-term plan to keep a pulse on customer service.
How often do you hear from a customer that they are pleased with your service? Unfortunately, not often enough. And how often do you hear from a customer when they are displeased, dissatisfied or even upset?
Customer feedback can be an invaluable tool for recognizing strengths and identifying opportunities for improvement. It’s important to implement a process where every customer comment or complaint is addressed immediately.
- If it is a compliment, share it with the whole company. It’s not often that a customer calls to tell a company how much they appreciate their service. And for those who deal with your customers daily, compliments come few and far between. So spread the good news!
- If it’s a complaint, someone with the authority to solve the problem should contact the customer to make sure they understand the problem and then have the skills to create a solution.
In the last 12 months I would guess that I have completed over 50 comment cards for airlines, restaurants, hotels, rental car companies and retail stores. Some of these have been with a complaint and some with a compliment. I have not had one company call to either thank me for the positive feedback or to further understand my dissatisfaction.
I’ve often wondered what companies do with the comment cards? I’m afraid they have been bitten by the same “dis-ease” as my dentist!
Create a long-term plan to handle unhappy customers and recognize those who care enough to tell you that you are doing a good job. Either scenario enhances the groundwork for stronger customer relationships.
Invest In Your Staff
Many companies make a substantial investment in technology every year just to keep on the cutting edge to provide service to their customers. While this investment may certainly be necessary, don’t overlook the immense opportunity to provide service to your customers through your staff.
- Provide all of your employees with the skills to create a great customer service experience with every customer interaction!
- Provide them with the skills to diffuse customers that are upset, angry or frustrated and turn those people into loyal customers.
Skill development is not a once a year or once every couple year investment. Create a long-term plan to provide on going skill development for all of your employees on a regular basis.
A long-term plan to continually improve customer loyalty will separate you from the rest. Don’t let complacency set in. Your customers are one of your most valued assets!
Remember, every customer counts, every single time!
David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities. He can be reached at 888-644-5499 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Measure-X Web site at www.measure-x.com.