Monday, February 3, 2014

Customer service and running a business

I run my own business. It's been a lot of work, tears, sweat, late nights, joy and smiles all in one big pretty package.

For those of you who have run or currently run your own business, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Yes, you are your own boss. Yes, you get paid to do what you love.

But you also put in many more hours than someone who can just show up to a job. Running your own business consumes many aspects of your personal life. Calls and emails throughout the day. Working nights and weekends. It's the best and worst of both worlds. And yet I love it and wouldn't have it any other way.

One thing that I have held as a high standard for myself in running my business is this: customer service.

Customer service.

Customer service.

It's very important to me.


If a client or potential client emails/calls me, I make sure to contact them in return as soon as possible. Of course I can't answer immediately in many cases since I am running a household with little people to take care of. But it is a high priority for me.

My very first job at age 15 was in customer service. Ever since that summer morning when my mother woke me up from my teenage slumber and told me to go find a job, I have learned the art of hard work.

I'll never forget that horrible, humiliating moment one warm spring night at age 17. I worked as a hostess and opera singer (for birthdays- don't laugh) for an Italian restaurant. I had only been working there a few weeks and was still learning the ropes. This particular afternoon we were prepping for the regular weekend crowd. We knew it would be packed. The phone rang and I answered it. The customer asked to put their names down as a reservation that night so they could come right before their movie. I said yes and wrote down their information.

Fast forward a few hours later to the packed crowd. As I was seating customers at tables my boss came up to me with a beet red face and a furrowed brow. He had a middle aged man and woman behind him and they.did.not.look.happy. Oh no. What did I do wrong?!

He went on to inform me that this was the couple who had called earlier and spoken to me about putting their names down for a reservation. When they arrived to be seated they were told our restaurant does not take reservations (in all my training no one had informed me of this very important detail!). Of course you can imagine their anger at this news. My manager informed them that he could have them seated in 20 minutes, which was half of the current waiting time for normal customers. They weren't happy with the news, but they realized it was the best offer my manager could make.

My manager told me that when a table opened up for this couple in 20 minutes, I would be the one to come get them from the waiting room, seat them, and tell them the specials for the evening.

Can you imagine the absolute horror and mortification I felt when the time came for me to seat these visibly upset customers?

I learned a valuable but hard lesson that night. You do what you can to keep the customer happy if you made a mistake. Even if it hurts.

I have worked in a grocery store, legal document copy center, recycling center, cell phone bill call center, restaurant, and a college administration office. I have cleaned houses, babysat cute little munchkins, served alongside my husband as a pastor, and now run a photography business.

Through all my jobs, the same sentence has been pounded in my head, over and over. "The customer is always right." Now, I know this isn't always true (very far from the truth). But I think the heart of the words is more important than the literal words. I have always been trained to work hard to please the customer, to go above and beyond their expectations. The idea is you want them to come back, to enjoy their experience with your business so they will return and refer others in the future.

These are some of the ways I prioritize customer service in my business:

1. Respond to a client as soon as possible.
2. Treat clients with utmost respect.
3. Dialogue back and forth with clients to keep in touch before and after business matters.
4. Bend over backwards if need be when a client requests something out of the normal scope of services.
5. If a client isn't happy with their service, offer a free session. (This has never happened to me, but I will stand by my promise.)
6. If a client has any concern or problem, respond immediately and try see the situation from their perspective while coming to a solution.

Now that I run my own business, I notice when other business are not up to par. Customer service is HUGE in my mind. I mean, just huge. If you can't offer good customer service, then why are you in business at all?

I take mental notes when I have positive and negative experiences with any business. I decide what kind of worker I want to be and don't want to be.

Recently I've had an experience with a business that just leaves my head shaking. I should have stopped using their services a while back when I started noticing symptoms of bad customer service. But I felt that I didn't have a choice and keep on going there. There was little communication and I always felt out of the loop. I recently decided it was time to say goodbye and sent them a kind but firm email. It took almost a week before I was given a response, which included their disappointment in hearing the news. To top it off, we have a bit of a charge dispute and I feel sick to my stomach about the whole mess. I am not happy with this business at all and I actually feel sorry for them that they can't seem to grasp the concept of quality customer service.

If this would have been me, I would have prodded a bit to ask my client if I had done anything to cause them to not use my services anymore. I would have bent over backwards offering to not only fix the problem, but drop the charges that the customer is disputing. My goal would be to keep them as a customer. Because in the long run, keeping them as a customer (and hopefully getting more customers in the future upon their referral) is worth more than disputing a small charge and not getting to the bottom of the problem that caused the customer to leave.

I feel a lot of things. I feel sad because this a local, small company that I would love to support. I feel disappointed that we couldn't work things out. I feel bummed that they don't want to try harder to keep me as a customer. I feel unsettled that I had a financial dispute because I always want to be above reproach in all my relationships and connections with people. But, it is what it is. I have been as kind and courteous as possible. I have been honest but patient.

Have you ever had a problem like this? How did you handle it? This is my first experience like this and I feel just downright sad about the whole thing. Hopefully I can learn some lessons and become wiser through it all.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to hear that you treat your customers so dearly, Casey. Of course, customers are what businesses live for, but I know how hard it can be to deal with customers, especially when they're upset. It can make any employee nervous when the only thing they can do is be patient with the client. Anyway, that is a lenghty list of good advice for people who value customer service. Thanks for sharing that! I hope every business owner learns to follow them. All the best! :)

    Tom Coshow @ TeleDirect