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How, When, and Who: The 3 Key Pieces to Customer Service

Once you are clear about the value that you bring to your customers and clients (see the post True Value: What Business are You Really In?), or the WHAT, the next step is understanding the HOW, WHEN, and WHO of delivering it.

There are two elements of HOW we deliver our product or service:

  1. The actual process of a transaction. For example, one client’s customer process includes a written estimate, followed by a customer purchase order, parts’ order placement, parts are received, and finally, the work is scheduled and completed.
  2. The second HOW element is the way in which we do it. For example, a local car dealership has recently launched their “Negotiation Free” buying process. The dealership has defined how the transaction will happen not only for potential customers but also for employees. This piece of “HOW” determines in large part about HOW the transaction will feel to your customers and clients. Unless you define it for your employees, they will create their own system, and it may not be what you want. Think of a business visit you’ve made where you were treated poorly by an employee with poor customer service skills; I’m confident that is not how the owner would like it done.

The second element of product/service delivery systems is the WHEN. You may be shaking your head and thinking “whenever the customer walks through my door!” Stop and think about it, though, and you will realize that the transaction has several components, and they typically occur in a routine sequence. In the best scenario, you have designed a system so that transaction steps occur at the optimum point of time. Examples of WHEN that should be defined are:

  • Response to initial inquiry in service industries;
  • Your “Welcome”, offers of help, and general chatter in a consumer retail setting;
  • Length of time between a customer proposal and follow-up communication.

Much of the WHEN can be automated through email systems and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Learn the capabilities that exist and use them.

Finally, there is the WHO of delivering your product/service – who does what when? Defining the key roles in this process is critical. This cuts down on confusion, and staff members taking on tasks that they should not: everyone stays in their lane, and tasks are not duplicated. It allows your team to focus on their given workload and become the subject-matter experts in their given area. This is especially key for your sales and customer support staff. A client recently discovered that when his administrative assistant made the proposal follow-up phone call, instead of the business owner, the acceptance rate shot through the roof. His customers most likely feel less “sold to” when his assistant calls to follow-up.

When these three elements – HOW, WHEN and WHO – are clearly defined from your customers’ perspective and are put into a system, customers will be treated consistently well by you and your staff, and in turn, increasing the likelihood that they will return.

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True Value: What Business are You Really In?

Do you know what you are really selling? Here’s a hint: it’s not the widgets on your inventory shelves, it’s not the thing that you do to or for your customers. It’s something more: it’s the change that results in your customers’ lives because of their interaction with you.

We know that our marketing materials need to talk more about benefits than features. But all too often, we define the benefits we provide for use in our marketing materials and then forget about them – we go back to our widgets and “that thing that we do”. What’s the big deal, you might say; if they’re already a customer, isn’t that all that matters?

Consumers (including businesses, if you are a B2B business) have an infinite number of choices to fill their needs. Your customers have a choice to work with you or…with someone else. They make the choice based upon the benefits received. On first pass, customer benefits look something like this:

  • Value
  • Proximity
  • Ease of use
  • Reliability
  • Comfort
  • Safety

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover more intrinsic benefits like:

  • Peace of mind
  • Confidence
  • Personal Pride
  • Family Protection
  • Time
  • Relationships

If you want your customers to recognize the benefits that you bring to them, you need to do more than tell them. The benefits of doing business with you need to be part of every step you take in serving your customers and clients.

  1. Define the benefits you provide and narrow them down so that you can fit them on a notecard. Post that note card and focus on those 5-7 words every morning for 2-3 minutes. Let those benefits guide your day.
  2. Talk with staff members about the benefits that you provide to your customers. The benefits need to be in the front of their minds as well as yours.

 

What it boils down to are the same wants every one of us had in elementary school; we want to feel included, we want to be confident, we want to know that we are doing well. Fill those wants for your customers and clients, and they’ll come back to you over and over.

Business Consultant or Business Coach: Which Should You Choose for Your Business?

Telling the difference between a consultant and business coach is confusing!

Telling the difference between a consultant and business coach is confusing!

Over the course of my corporate business years I used the services of business consultants many times. My clients and I have discussed the work of their consultants, from direct mail consultants to product packaging consultants. Professionals that are experts in their fields can be just what the doctor ordered when you have a particular, focused question.

In the best scenarios, the business receives an expert answer to a specific issue or question that was holding the company back. However, in the worst case scenarios, the business simply receives a ream of notes that collect dust and a large invoice.

In those latter situations, it’s often the case that what the business truly needed was a small business coach, instead of a consultant. Let me explain the differences between small business consulting and small business coaching and when to use either:

Small Business Consultants

Chances are, your business already has a roster of Business Consultants – CPAs, attorneys, and insurance representatives are good examples.

A Consultant brings expert answers to specific questions or challenges. Common questions that Consultants might handle are “How do I increase business profitability?” or “Is my corporate structure appropriate for my business?”

The job of a consultant is to bring solutions to small businesses. The communication is primarily one-way, with the consultant delivering a prescribed solution for the small business owner to implement, although the consultant may sometimes complete some or all of the work.  An example of this is the social media consultant who recommends a marketing strategy and then creates a Facebook and Twitter presence for the business.

Consultants often teach skills, allowing the business staff to implement recommendations made by the consultant. Consultants focus on improving business weaknesses over developing business strengths.

A consultant is best used when you have a specific question or challenge to which you want a directive answer. You are willing to either pay to have the solution implemented or have the time and energy to implement it yourself without varying greatly from the prescription.

Small Business Coaches

A Small Business Coach may be an expert in a field, but that expertise is used as a backdrop to how a Coach works with a small business owner. A Business Coach looks at the whole business and the owner’s goals with respect to the business, and integrates the owner’s personal goals.

Communication between a Business Coach and a small business owner is generally two-way, with the business owner doing more of the talking than the Coach. The most skilled Small Business Coaches are masters at asking questions, in drawing out the best solutions for a particular business owner. Once solutions are created, a Coach provides accountability to agreed-upon actions and changes to achieve the results they want.

Coaches generally focus more on business strengths than weaknesses, although it is every Coach’s mission to develop you, the business owner, to be the best you can be.

A Small Business Coach is best used when your questions are “big picture” in nature OR when you aren’t certain you’re focusing on the right questions to grow your business. Many clients hire a Coach because they want to follow their own path or they have a general feel that “something isn’t quite right in the business”.

There is a place for both Business Coaches and Business Consultants in your small business. To choose the right one and get the most value from your investment, start by knowing what questions you’re trying to answer.

5 Steps (Back) to Get Ahead with Your Goals

When you're trying to reach your goals, start with "the end in mind"!

When you’re trying to reach your goals, start with “the end in mind”!

Now that you’ve set a goal for 2014, declared a New Year’s Resolution, have you taken your first step? You see, there are results goals (the outcome that we want), and then there are action goals (the action we will take to reach our desired outcome). And that’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s one thing to declare “I want to double my sales”, or “I am going to be more productive”, but when we define what action steps we will take to reach those outcomes we begin to see results (for more about results and action goals see here).

But knowing what those steps are can befuddle even the best in business. When a client is struggling to define the steps to reach their goal, I walk them through the process I’m about to share here.

Entrepreneurs are big thinkers – great at knowing where they want to end up. Defining the steps to reach that destination can feel mundane, cumbersome, and well…boring. Small business owners are fond of the expression “make it happen!” but without a large staff to “make it happen” those details often fall on your shoulders, the small business owner.

To easily define those action steps, and to take the most efficient path, here’s my remedy for detail-offended entrepreneurs:

  1.  Begin with the end result – feel it, believe it, know it.
  2. Once you can envision reaching that goal, ask what step you would have taken right before you reached the goal?
  3. What action would you have taken immediately before that?
  4. And before that?
  5. Continue backing up until you reach an action step that you can, and will, take today.

By starting at your goal, you include only those actions that produce results and that are the most effective and efficient. The best part is that once you’ve walked backwards to where you are today, you’ve defined a comprehensive action plan designed by you, in full detail, to your desired goal.

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.