Five ways to focus on service

John Tschohl
John Tschohl discusses why every small business should be a service business. Photo courtesy of Service Quality Institute.

By John Tschohl

Guest columnist

If 2011 taught us anything, it that service is more important than ever.

A small company must know that when it does less than customers expect, they perceive service to be bad. When the company does exactly what customers expect, service is good. And when a company does more than customers expect, their service is perceived as superior. I urge you to do more than your customers expect if you plan to retain them.

The  Netflix lesson

Look at what happened to Netflix. It lost about 1 million accounts because it lost focus of the customer. When the company announced a price increase last July, customers made a stink and many left. While Netflix has attempted to fix the problem, it still has its work cut out. After leading the pack in customer service in 2010, the company’s satisfaction index fell to an average score this year.

Regardless of the customer base you serve, all small businesses should think of themselves as being in the service business. As you create goals for the new year, first and foremost be sure your company is offering the best customer experience possible.

Here are five areas to focus on:

Value “ Competition is fierce these days, and consumers want to feel they are getting value for their money. Larger companies might offer better pricing, but after the initial purchase  consumers will ultimately get more bang for their buck with a small business because of the service provided.

Quality “ Small businesses can win big with service, because big chains are focused on quantity instead of quality. When a customer has a problem, small businesses are more knowledgeable, have specialists in many cases and can provide unparalleled quality to  customers.

Service “ Get to know your customers on a first-name basis, know their preferences and take care of the little things that big companies often overlook. Many small businesses don t have the lowest prices, but they dominate in service.

Empowerment “ Empower employees to make customer-service decisions on the spot. Give employees a $25 or $50 limit that they can spend on a customer to fix a problem.

Speed – Think of speed as the jelly to empowerment peanut butter; they form a perfect combination. Customers want problems solved yesterday, so act quickly.

Small businesses should adopt a whole-company customer service mentality. Because quality service is an effective selling tool, it also can be a long-term competitive advantage. Customers will discern a distinct difference in service quality, and it becomes a company’s competitive edge.

John Tschohl is president of  the Service Quality Institute and author of the books, “Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service” and “Empowerment: A Way of Life.”