There are thousands of resources online and in print purporting to hold the secret to success in business. It’s a vast and profitable industry, and books continue to fly off the shelves. From a service industry perspective, to me it seems to boil down to a single, simple ideal: The best way to attract and keep clients is to create a service experience that is second to none.
Providing exceptional design is not the full picture of what our company does. For a professional firm, quality of design should be a given. What keeps people coming back is the combination of high quality work product, and excellent customer service. And the same is true with any business.
Last week, my husband scheduled an appointment for me at my favourite spa. I’d been working such long hours that I hadn’t had time for a haircut since last Canada Day. I had forgotten how unbelievably nice it is to walk into a quiet, warm, lovely smelling room, have the receptionist stand up, take my coat, welcome me by name (AND pronounce it correctly) and get me a nice hot tea. And my hairdresser is not only genuinely friendly but also exceptionally talented, so it provides the full experience for me: quality plus service. As a result, I didn’t mind too much when they last raised their prices.
So what does this have to do with your business?
Simple. All other things being equal, great service standards give you a key point of differentiation from your competitors. You just need to commit to it, and make it an integral part of your organizational SOP.
A Few Things You Can Do…
Share the Love
A great service experience starts with consistent affirmation that your client made the right choice. It does little good to make a big fuss over prospects, only to forget about them once they become customers.
Create a Comfort Zone
People are resistant to change, and working with a new company makes people nervous. You can get rid of any ambiguity or uncertainty by explaining what your clients should expect. This simple act of letting your clients know how things work is called “Future Pacing”. Through knowing what to expect in working with you, your clients will have a higher level of comfort and security in their decision.
This follows from future pacing. If you know what you’re doing (and you should if you want to stay in business) you’ll have a set of proven processes in place, to ensure consistent and predictable results for your clients every time. Your processes reflect your professionalism. Promoting your processes fosters trust in your abilities, and respect for what you do.
Take Nothing for Granted
I wrote another article about this not too long ago. The little things all add up, so don’t neglect them. The more consideration you give the small details in your service experience, the more valuable you will be to your clients.
Clients come to you because they have a specific need. As they work with you, they’ll likely realize that they have other, related needs you could also fulfill. You need to make it easy for your client to purchase other services from you. You don’t need to give them the hard-sell… doing your job well and providing excellent service does that for you. It can be as simple as a sell-sheet that lists all of the services you provide. Something for them to keep in mind, just in case.
Better to have it and not need it…
than need it and not have it. My mother’s favourite saying when we argued about bringing umbrellas to school on a sunny day. The reality is, problems happen. A smart business person will anticipate them, and have a plan in place should things go wrong. Let your clients know what to do when they have issues or concerns.
Service providers are busy, even when they’re not. In the minds of clients, this could be construed as being flaky, inaccessible, or apathetic. Make sure your schedule allows for peak service periods, and that you are both accessible and engaged when your client needs you. Be organized, and come to meetings fully prepared. Connecting with your clients means just that.
Embrace Client Reviews
Don’t fear the social media machine. Feedback, reviews and testimonials hold far more weight than any advertising campaign. Ask for feedback after each project, both positive and negative. The positive will help you establish credibility, and the negative will help you improve.
You need to be fully transparent in your work. This includes billing (which is very important for clients). Your invoices should be timely, itemized, and free from hidden or unexpected upcharges. There’s nothing that irks me more than having a waitress ask if I want a particular side dish with my dinner, then being billed extra for it at the end. It’s not the extra dollar or so that bothers me, it’s the sneaky factor. And the result is the dissolution of trust. If something is not included, tell your clients beforehand.
Mind Your Manners
The phrase “thank you” is simple, it’s free, and it has the potential to have a profound effect on your business. Be genuine, and thank your clients often. You are fortunate that they are choosing to work with you. You are not simply entitled to anyone’s patronage. Voice your appreciation whenever you can.
Creating an exceptional service experience makes your business more profitable, and infinitely more referable. There is no advertising quite so effective as a base of loyal, satisfied customers.
Thanks to Michael Huggins for the blog-fodder.