THE BLOG
12/05/2012 03:13 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

Are You Making These Fatal Mistakes In Your Business?

My house was struck by lightening and destroyed by fire back in June 2011. My entire year was total chaos, and things really only started feeling normal again a few months ago.

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So I can certainly relate to what people are going through from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. If you suffered damage because of Hurricane Sandy, my heart goes out to you.

During the aftermath of my own fire, I learned a number of valuable lessons. I also had some eye-opening experiences about customer service that I'd like to share with you, so you can make sure you're not making these fatal mistakes in your business.

Let me first give you a quick back-story, so you'll understand my customer service horror stories.

After the fire, I had to deal with getting utilities turned off at the old house that was destroyed, and transferred over to the house we were temporarily leasing.

In the process of handling everything related to the emergency move, it occurred to me that no one in customer service was actually listening to what I was saying.

My typical call went like this:

Hi, my name is Denise Gosnell, and I need to transfer service. My home was just destroyed by fire, but luckily my family and I escaped alive. So I need to turn off service at that old house, and get it turned on at the house we're leasing now.

After I said that to the various agents at the phone company, cable company, gas company and electric company, not a single one of them had actually listened to what I said. They all just responded with, "OK, I'll help you with your transfer" -- like total robots.

I had just told them that my home was destroyed by fire and that luckily my family escaped alive, and their reply was just a sterile, robotic, "OK, I'll help you with your transfer," when it should have been "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry to hear what happened," or "I'm glad you and your family are OK."

I didn't expect a pity party or for them to do anything special for me, except that they would just listen to and acknowledge me.

Since that happened, I've been observing the customer service practices of various companies, and it is sad that the majority of businesses are stuck in this same robotic trap of providing customer service.

Let me give you another example: I recently had a credit card company give me a call about my credit card. My phone rang, and when I answered, their system put me on hold while it got an agent on the line. Then, when the agent came on the line, they had the nerve to ask me what the call was about. They called me, remember? What a bizarre process.

Poor customer service is killing business growth worldwide. No wonder businesses are struggling -- they are forgetting about listening to the very people that keep them in business to begin with!

What's the solution? Provide outstanding customer service.

Here are five simple tips to help you get your customers raving about your business.

Tip #1: Truly Listen to Your Customers

When you and your team members interact with a customer, truly listen to what the customer is saying. Provide empathy and acknowledge what the customer is going through. You don't have to give them your services for free to just listen to them and seek to understand them. That is all most people want anyway, to just be listened to.

Tip #2: Keep Your Customers Informed

You should always follow-up periodically with your customers while work is underway. You should just keep them updated, so they don't keep wondering about the status of your progress.

Tip #3: Ask for Customer Feedback

Take the time to ask your customers for feedback. You can use surveys to get this valuable feedback. You can give your customers something valuable in return for completing a short survey.

Make sure you ask questions that will help you improve your services to them. You can also use the survey for market research to learn about the other places your customers enjoy shopping or activities they enjoy participating in. This can give you insights into additional places where you may want to advertise to reach more of this type of customer.

But once you gather the survey data, don't just sit on the data. Act upon it and improve your services by responding to what they asked for.

Tip #4: Don't Settle for Great, Strive to Be Extraordinary!

Give your customers extraordinary service to make them want to refer you to others. For example, you can send them a surprise bonus after the sale that they are not expecting. Everyone loves to get surprises.

You could also send a hand-written thank you note to thank them for doing business with you. The surprise doesn't have to be expensive. But you can just build the price for it into the price of your products, and then make your customers feel extraordinary.

Tip #5: Ask Your Clients to Refer Others

Once you have implemented these other four tips, you should feel good about asking your customer for their referrals. If you are extraordinary, then your customers will be glad to send you referrals -- but you need to ask. People have busy lives and may not realize you want referrals unless you specifically ask.

The best way to get referrals is to offer a special bonus to your customers for their referrals.
It's time to take control over your customer service and start treating your customers with the respect that they deserve... and they will love you for it!

For additional strategies for starting and growing your own business, check out my website at ThrivingBusiness.com. I also offer a free business startup and growth eCourse on the site.

Follow Denise Gosnell on Facebook: www.facebook.com/thrivingbiz