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Companies in unglamorous, yet essential, industries and niches (septic system maintenance, mortuary supplies, car wash operations, trade association operators, and so forth) can benefit from a program of customer service and customer experience improvement every bit as much as the retail and hospitality players that typically gain renown on the subject. The same is true, more generally, for companies that operate in the B2B (wholesale) space.
Here are six ways to improve your customer service if your company operates within such an industry.
1. Benchmark the consumer brands that your customers are already judging you in comparison to. That customer whom you only know as someone who buys from your niche business during the day also has a life independently as a consumer, which means they know what it feels like to buy from Apple and Zappos and even how it feels to splurge on a stay at a great hotel with five-star hospitality and customer service. This means that they’ll be considering your level of customer service against these high standards, not only against what may be generally expected in your industry.
As Jeff MacDowell, who has made a name for himself in an unlikely industry (plumbing supply) puts it, “When we only benchmark our immediate competitors, it limits our ability to improve. I find our industry improves the fastest when it extends its view outward and learns from all the great players, regardless of industry.”
2. Even if your customers buy your products because they need to, don’t think your level of customer service should be lower than it would be on a discretionary purchase. I’m fond of the statement of purpose that guides Safelite AutoGlass:
We exist to make a difference and bring unexpected happiness to people’s everyday lives.
Note the three salient words here: “unexpected,” “difference,” “happiness,” and “everyday,” particularly the term “unexpected.” Safelite associates tend to come into a customer’s life on a day when happiness is the last thing they’re expecting (best case a rock chipped their windshield; worst case someone broke into their car, destroying window glass on the way in), yet the company devotes itself to the idea that its team will be able to bring happiness–unexpected happiness, in fact–in the course of their duties.
3. If your industry—and therefore your customers–form a unique tribe (or think of themselves as a unique tribe), treat them that way. This is a key way to better serve their emotional needs than one of the dreaded generalist competitors who frequently spring up (you can now buy toilets, for example, from Amazon) ever could.
4. Treat customers individually even if they are part of tribe. While you can get a lot of mileage about being “the company that is right for customers who are more or less like me–i.e., are in the that are in my industry,” you can get even more out of being “the place that is right for me, the place that knows me as an individual and treats me as such.” The best customer service is truly personal customer service.
5. If you encounter crossover traffic from consumers who more typically order outside of your industry or niche, adjust your customer service to their “civilian” expectations. Don’t talk in jargon to them that they may find inscrutable; don’t cop an attitude when they don’t sufficiently self-serve according to your expectations. Jeff MacDowell again: “An overwhelming number of choices in faucets, tile, and fixtures [MacDowell’s industry niche] can easily force a consumer to walk out of a showroom, regroup, and shop online, where they are comfortable – home. To capture the sale, we industry insiders need to understand this, and take specific action to put the customer at ease, such as using simple binary selection–like at the eye doctor–to calm the process.”
6. Don’t mistakenly assume your employees have received sufficient training in the basic principles of customer service. It can happen that employees who know the intricacies and possess the tradeskill required in a unique industry or niche can rise within that industry without ever having had even basic customer service training. If, upon surveying your employees, you decide this is the case, there are multiple ways you can address the deficiency. Live customer service training is the gold standard here, but there are also many good books on the subject that you could use for the purpose of putting together your own curriculum.
If you do discover a deficiency, realize not only that it should be addressed, but also see it as an opportunity. Because if your people are, as of now, largely untrained, it’s likely that the employees of your direct competitors are likewise untrained. So, if you get cranking on improving your employees’ skillset, it will quickly give you a true competitive advantage.
March 1, 2019 at 03:05PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs