Since I was old enough to have a job, I've worked in customer service roles. Around 2 weeks into my first career as a waitress (at age 15) I was almost fired - my boss gave me an ultimatum: stop looking petrified every time you interact with a customer, and speak up, nobody can hear you. I'm a huge introvert and interacting with strangers confidently was not something that came naturally.
Lucky for me (maybe), I'm also a perfectionist and there was no way I was going to ‘fail’ at my first job! Somehow I figured out that my fear was generally unfounded and gradually I built up my confidence to become damn good at my job.
At that job, and every job that has followed, I've learned the value of going above and beyond for your customers. If they're coming for their morning coffee, every day, find out their name and ask how they are. Showing interest in someone as a person, remembering their likes and dislikes (and how they take their coffee) sets you up as a trustworthy service (or caffeine) provider, and someone they look forward to interacting with daily.
After university, my jobs became less typically what you would define as customer service roles, and more service provider/client relationships. After years of working as a waitress, barista, bra fitter, sales clerk and more, I had this strong service ethic installed in my mind, to the point that it had become second nature. When I started doing professional graphic design jobs, I still focused on keeping my customer (client) happy, surprised and dying to come back and use my services again.
Some things I've learned about customer service, and how to apply them to your business or service online:
It's important to under-promise and over-deliver
(If you want loyal customers)
You need to manage clients expectations by providing them with a clear idea of what they will get, before they pay or sign up. Be honest, and sell yourself or your product, but never promise something you cannot come through on. People are much happier when their expectations are exceeded. They are never happy when their expectations are not met. You can learn that the hard way, or you can trust me on that one!
Imagine you're in a restaurant, and the kitchen has run out of potatoes. Your wait-staff, instead of informing you as soon as they find out, doesn't want to let you down, or have the discussion with you, so they don't tell you. When you get your meal, it's served with broccoli instead of fries. How do you feel? Cheated? Annoyed? Angry? (French fry rage is a thing you guys). Whatever you’re feeling, it probably isn't pleasantly surprised or happy. (Although, I love me some broccoli, I feel I may be in the minority with this one).
Now apply that scenario to your own business or product. As difficult as it may be to inform a client of changes, hurdles or failures to come up with what they were expecting, it is far better to give them some solutions early on, rather than ignoring the problem out of fear or embarrassment.
Be in constant communication with your clients. If they are expecting something on Friday, and it's not going to be ready until Monday, let them know. If you need more information from them to get their job done, ask them as soon as the issue comes up. It makes you look on top of things and fosters an environment of open communication and trust with your clients, which is better for everyone!
What can you do in your business to go a little further than your client is expecting? The trigger for this blog post was an experience I had on Thursday night. I went to a new (to me) Indian restaurant in my neighborhood for take-out. I probably (definitely) looked tired, I had a bunch of shopping and was on my way home from work. Not only did they usher me into a comfy booth while I waited for my order, but as I was waiting, there was the clink of ice in a cup. I thought they were bringing me water (which would have been amazing!) but I was presented with a gorgeous glass of fresh mango lassi.
It was so surprising! You just don't expect that level of service or attention from a take-out order. The drink was great. I decided that I'd be back, even before I tasted the food. Of course, I got the food and it was incredible. They've now won me over and I'll recommend them to anyone in my area who likes Indian food, and I'll return regularly. All for the price of a mango lassi. Maybe $3.00? I'm easily won over, I guess.
My point here is this. Going the extra mile doesn't have to be a grand gesture. Paying attention to your clients needs and giving them what they want or need when they least expect it, goes such a long way to building loyalty. It could be a small digital freebie with your blog post, or a hand written, personalized note in an Etsy order.
By showing your client a tiny bit of personal attention and a kind gesture, you're going to stand out from your competition. They will harbor feelings of goodwill toward you and recommend your services to their friends.
When I first started freelancing, an ex-colleague was starting out in the self-employed hunger games too. We had similar networks (they actually had slightly broader networks than me, and a few years more experience). We were charging almost identical rates. We were looking for work in the same city, in the same industry, at the same time. During our first 6 months as freelancers, I had to turn down jobs (and referred jobs to my friends!), while they were often hustling for work.
There are a tonne of factors at play with this kind of thing, so I can’t say with any certainty what the magic formula is. A lot of it is down to luck, timing and ‘clicking’ with the people making the decisions about who to hire. You don’t have so much control over that. What you do have control over is the impression you make on your clients.
I’ve been told by clients time and again that they love working with me because I have a ‘can-do’ attitude, a drive to deliver more than expected, and a ‘way’ of putting their clients (I usually work through production houses or advertising agencies) at ease.
I truly believe that this success and trust that I’ve built with my design clients has a firm foundation in my customer service roles that shaped my early work life.
If you’re working with people in any capacity - whether they be customers, clients, readers, consumers of your work… What do you do to provide great service to them?
How do you make your clients feel
[personally] appreciated and special?
Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your client happiness secrets, or even examples of great service you’ve received.
This week, have a think about what you can do to make your clients feel even more appreciated. Make a list of ideas, and implement just one. You’ll be turning casual clients into hardcore fans in no time!
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