Every year, MSN Money conducts a nationwide survey and compiles a list of companies that offer the best and worst customer service. If you don't see your small business's name on either list, it's because Money targets huge businesses, like airlines, department store chains and telecommunications giants. These companies lose revenue. Your small business could lose much more.
In a recent article, entrepreneur Gary Whitehill talks about the benefits of positive word of mouth marketing and the detriments of negative word of mouth marketing. He uses best and worst case scenarios to illustrate how much happy customers can do to increase business and how much unhappy customers can do to decrease it. In the ultimate worst case scenario, poor customer service could lead to your closing the doors faster than the Wizard of Oz got Dorothy back to Kansas.
Empathy can go a long way toward helping a small-business owner develop policies and practices that will keep customers satisfied and wanting to continue doing business with them. As Whitehill points out, satisfying a customer doens't necessarily mean giving in to demands. It means finding a happy medium that leaves you both feeling good.
Zipcar -- a not-so-small business I've discussed in a previous post -- excels at customer service. One example of their commitment to customer satisfaction is the way they respond when a customer is inconvenienced through no fault of his own. I had reserved a car one weekend. When I arrived to pick up my car, the parking space was empty. I called Zipcar to find out what happened. The previous renter was running late. I understood, I've been late returning a car once.
Since the customer service rep didn't know how long I would have to wait for the other driver to return, he allowed me to cancel my reservation and offered to find me an alternative car. To my delight, he found a car located less than a block from where my car should have been. To further improve my customer experience, he cut the fee for the first hour of my rental in half.
Imagine if your small business was as dedicated to customer satisfaction as Zipcar. You could end up with more than positive word of mouth marketing (notice the positive word of mouth in this post?). You could find yourself with a few outright evangelists on your hands. Conversely, if you make your customers angry enough, they could literally destroy you, especially if they have friends or colleagues who work for local media.
Getting a small business started is difficult enough. Avoid doing anything that will ruin your chances for success. You can start by giving as much attention to providing a good customer experience as you do to providing a quality product or service.