What Tony Hsieh has created with his billion-dollar company Zappos is already legendary. From his lightning-fast delivery times, to his no-corner-office layout, to the fact that he lets the general public tour that office — he’s changed the way businesses do business these days. These 5 customer service lessons from Zappos will help you realize just how important your customer is to the success of your business.
So this is probably not the first article you have read praising Zappos. But today I don’t want to just praise and talk about how to be vaguely “inspired” by this company. I want to help you take specific, actionable lessons from this groundbreaking business model. I want you to upgrade the facet of your company that can truly take it from good to just plain amazing. Your customer service.
5 Things You Can Do To Build a Relationship With Your Customer
1. Know Thy Customer
(No, really. You have to know who they are.)
Too often we business owners forget to see people as, well, people. We instead get busy and lazy and start to see them as this big amorphous mass of consuming activity. Big mistake. A real person is behind every credit card number, every order and yes, every angry return and demand for a refund.
So the first rule in delivering exceptional customer service is to treat each individual customer as an individual human being. If it helps, take a deep breath when dealing with a customer and think “How would I want my mom to be treated in this situation?”
Nuts and Bolts Takeaway: Whenever possible, when responding to a customer question, you should take a moment to look up your customer’s history first. Don’t let it keep you from replying quickly (more on that later) but take a minute to understand what they have ordered from you, when they ordered it, and any other interesting tidbits.
This way, when you reply to them and mention these details –even if you aren’t able to give them the answer they want right away – they’ll at least feel important to you. They’ll at least feel like you aren’t seeing them as a number, but as a real person.
2. The VIP Club
When you have a loyal customer, or even just one who has ordered from you more than once, treat them like gold. Wow them with little unexpected bonuses. You don’t need to break the bank or kill your profit margin to show them some appreciation.
Brace yourself for a cliché: but little things really do mean a lot! Showing this appreciation could be as small as throwing in a small freebie with their next order, or as nice as a free upgrade of their shipping time to 2 day or even overnight. This works well for new customers as well, to hook them quickly on you and your company.
Nuts and Bolts Takeaway: The other day I tried out a new Chinese takeout restaurant and as the cashier was totaling up my order, the owner walked up to me, introduced herself and said “Do you like Crab Rangoon? I want to thank you for trying us out by throwing in a complimentary order for you.” See? You better believe I’ll be back, and I’ll tell my friends. And I bet that extra little order of Crab Rangoon probably cost her $1.00, tops.
3. The Need for Speed
Think of how you feel when you are waiting for something. It’s never fast enough. Think about sitting in the waiting room while your car’s oil is being changed. You’re sipping on weak coffee and watching Oprah on the black and white TV and you feel like time stands still.
Minutes feel like hours and days feel like months! So don’t do this to your own customers. When they email you, email them back right away. If they call you, call them back within 24 hours. Every business has to set their own standards and hold themselves accountable to them.
Nuts and Bolts Takeaway: Whether you are your own sole customer service rep or you have a staff of folks, set down the standards of what it means to reply “quickly.” When exactly your customers can expect calls back from you. Write the standards down and make your team actually adhere to them.
During normal business hours, set your phone to alert you the minute you receive an email your customer service address. Reply to them no matter where you are, even if just to say that you got the email and are looking into the matter right now.
4. Be (Super) Human
Remember how important it is to see your customers as human beings? Well it’s equally as important to let your customers see you as human. Being real and being personal can allow your customers to relate to you. Heck, to maybe even like you! Zappos customer service staff is encouraged to really relate to their customers. And go way above and way beyond.
They don’t have time limits on their calls and they aren’t expected to read from scripts. Their call center staff takes orders as late as 11pm and the warehouse is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So even at 11pm they can offer next-day delivery!
Other superhuman customer service stories include the time that a rep didn’t give up when a customer wanted a specific pair of shoes that Zappos didn’t carry. The rep simply bought them from a competitor and delivered them to the Zappos customer!
Nuts and Bolts Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to be real. When a customer purchases from you, thank them in a genuine way. Talk to them. Let them really know how much their business means to you. If you hear a sob story on their end that resonates with you, take the time to not just sympathize, but empathize! Share your humanity with them.
5. Set Your Mindset
One of the cornerstones of Zappo’s customer service is their no-questions-asked return policy. You don’t want what they sent you? No problem! Send it back and save your breath. They don’t require a long explanation from you. In fact, they all but trip over themselves to process your return.
Zappos allows you a full year to return your purchase and they pay for the return shipping. How can you, the small business owner, possibly match that? I’m going to guess that you might be a bit smaller than Zappos, which makes it harder to absorb return and shipping costs like this into your profit and loss balance. But you can replicate one very important thing.
Nuts and Bolts Takeaway: Don’t let returns or refund requests take you by surprise. Expect them, anticipate them! Review your last year’s sales and determine what percentage came back in returns or refunds. Now expect that going forward and mentally prepare for that amount of returns this year.
By expecting a refund or two, you will be less defensive and taken aback when you get such a request from your customer. You’ll have systems in place that feel genuinely happy to take care of whatever unpleasant issue a customer brings you. This authentic feeling of “we got this” will likely lead to them being happily surprised by your positive manner. And that could lead to them ordering from you again in the future!
So tell me. What’s the best customer service you ever received. How about the worst? What kind of interesting or unique customer service policies do you employ to set yourself apart from your competition?
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