By Lorna Keogh, Sage Business Advice Manager
When we look for examples of how to do businesses we are naturally inclined to look at the best performers in the market to see what strategies helped to get them where they are. What we sometimes forget is how our own and often seemingly insignificant experiences can provide the most valuable business lessons.
When I was a student I did a number of different tasks and voluntary jobs one of which was minding animals for friends and family. Most wanted someone to come up and feed their dogs daily meaning they could leave them at their home and not disrupt their routine to put them in kennels. At one stage a family contacted me via a friend to ask me to mind their dogs.
I did as I always would – turned up before they left, took notes, got details such as vets phone numbers and what their usual routine was. The family went on holiday and I looked after the dogs. If the unexpected cropped up I made an educated decision on what to do. I left a basic written update for the family afterwards advising them of how I got on.
The feedback I got from this family was an eye opener. They were delighted with what I had done because they could enjoy their holiday in peace. They were delighted that I hadn’t felt the need to do what others had done in the past and text them to ask about every little decision I needed to make or to give a running commentary on how things were going. This was very different to friends I had looked after dogs for who wanted daily updates on everything but I had felt when meeting the family that this wasn’t what they wanted.
So why you might ask was the above experience at all important?
This experience taught me what customer service is about – great customer service is about giving each customer the experience that they want. It is not about the experience that you yourself would like or expect. It is not about giving a customer the same experience a different customer wanted and valued in the past. If you can understand what a customer wants and what they value you will see each customer as an individual.
Understanding customer needs and values sets you on the road to giving a really great experience each time you do business.
So how do we remember what each customer wants, enjoyed and doesn’t want? In my case as a student minding dogs occasionally for just a few people it was easy to remember details of each animal and person. As a small business it may be easy to remember the intricate details of your dealings with a customer when you are dealing with just a handful of customers.
However consider what happens when you grow and are dealing with 20 or 30 customers – do you remember what your last contact with the customer was, what you spoke about and how you left it with them? It is at this point that notes written on piece of paper or in a notepad become insufficient. What about if you grow again and hire an employee who is also dealing with these customers?
While using a computerised accounts package will allow you to see the historical trading information with the customer you still face a situation where you and your employee will be unsure of who spoke with the customer last, what was agreed, what does the customer want, what do they not want, how do they like to deal with you.
It is this very problem that means that CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is so important for all businesses. CRM is vital for small business but is often overlooked and not seen as a necessity because the value and need for it is misunderstood. A CRM solution does exactly what it says on the tin – it allows you and your staff to manage the relationship you have with your customers to ensure that you give them the experience they want every time and regardless of who is dealing with them.
A good CRM system will allow you to define what information you want to record about your customers and then to report back on this. A good system will also allow you to track details of your last conversation with the customer, to record and remind you of any future actions (meetings, phone calls, orders) that need to take place, to document how this customer likes to do business with you (possibly only after lunch because their mornings are tied up with their own clients, possibly only by email due to time differences).
Remembering what is important to your customers and providing the environment in which they want to work with you can make them feel unique and valued.
When dealing with multiple staff members a CRM system will track the contact any of these staff have with your customers. This means that the next person to deal with this customer can see the details of all prior history and can pick up where a colleague left off. From a customer point of view this saves on having to repeat themselves and gives the feeling that your business and employees are working as a unit to meet their needs.
To see how CRM could help your small business visit www.sagecrm.com to avail of a free 30 day trial.