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Giving good customer service

I recently had a bad experience with an online grocery delivery service provided by one of the UK’s major supermarkets. You may wonder why on earth a freelance translator is choosing to blog about supermarket shopping, but stay with me, my blog has not been hijacked by a consumer rights blogger.

The relevance of this bad experience to freelancing is that it reminded me of how important it is to realize the value of your clients and to put this into practice. In that vein, here are some pointers I’ve learned along the way, including those learned from customer service experts such as Chris Daffy.

1) First and foremost, your clients are central to your business.

You want to keep your customers because without them you will find it somewhat difficult to stay afloat. This seems like an obvious statement but it is surprising how many people seem to forget it, or appear not to fully appreciate it.

In my bad experience with the online groceries delivery service I felt like I was being treated flippantly throughout. I received no apology for appalling service, and was greeted with a shrug that said to me “Yeah, whatever, there’s more where you came from”. This is a dangerous assumption, even for a supermarket giant. After all, customers talk, and these days there’s the added dimension of the blogosphere, where word spreads like wildfire. So, they’ve missed an opportunity to lock onto a loyal, regular customer, and have therefore also wasted the big profit potential of me telling my friends and neighbours how great they are and winning them as customers too. I should add that I have also been trialling a rival, more expensive, online groceries delivery service, who I will now happily spend my hard-earned pennies on instead. Customers are usually willing to pay extra if that means excellent service.

2) Reward loyal clients, as well as new ones.

For freelancers, attracting new clients is essential to ensuring a regular flow of work, and it is an ongoing process. It also allows us to develop and progress in our careers, specialising both in terms of subject and client.

However, in your efforts to flirt with new clients don’t forget about your regulars. There will always be interesting one-off clients who call up only once and are never heard from again, but clients who keep coming back and spend a fortune on your services over the years are usually worth more to you. (This is a bit like the advice not to neglect your old buddies when you find new ones, with the caveat that in both cases this only applies to old clients or buddies who are definitely worth keeping; we are bound to lose some along the way.). Remember to focus some of your marketing effort on your regulars: why not try updating them on new skills you’ve developed, or simple things like the personal touch of remembering important events in their lives and sending them Christmas cards or even stationery gifts with your business name on it.

One of the best (in my opinion) supermarket delivery companies (the rival I referred to above) frequently emails me with discounts and offers that are tailored to my favourite things, and overall they give an impression of a company constantly striving to improve their service. Some of the add-on services they offer I really don’t need, but the overall impression leaves me with such a warm fuzzy feeling and I am so impressed that their approach probably has a 90% success rate with me. It’s a bit like going to a restaurant and receiving attentive and friendly service from the wait staff; you don’t need them to pour your wine but it makes you feel valued and creates an overall good experience.

3) It is usually possible to salvage a situation where the client is dissatisified for whatever reason.

I was easy prey for online grocery shopping services – I love how easy it is and I can create a list that I add to as I think of things, rather than the soul-destroying weekly barging and queuing under neon lights that is the modern supermarket experience. Plus, working from home all I have to do is answer the door to the delivery man, and even if they are a few minutes late with the booked delivery time I will still be here. So, you’d think it wouldn’t be hard for an online groceries delivery service to keep me as a long-term customer.

Well, as a result of my bad experience I lodged a complaint to the company concerned. After a few days had passed I did eventually receive a verbal apology over the phone. By this time my view of the service was pretty dire, but not beyond the point of no return; there was still a chance for them to retain me as a customer. What could they have done? In such a disastrous situation, nothing speaks louder to customers than cold hard cash. But alas, all I was offered was £10 off my next shop.  The presumption that I would use them again after this experience was an arrogant and erroneous one. If a customer pays for a service and you categorically fail to provide that service that customer should really be entitled to some sort of monetary compensation; in my case at least waiving the cost of the delivery. In translation, if you miss a deadline that has major ramnifications for the client, or worse, produce sub-standard work, do you expect to be paid in full? (Not a rhetorical question by the way).

4) The customer is not always right but neither are you.

A little meeting in the middle never hurt anyone. Imagine yourself in their position, in a different customer/client-supplier scenario such as a shop, or getting your kitchen fitted. As the customer, the service or product you are paying for is important to you, and you want to feel like you supplier appreciates this. Even when your customer is demanding, do not scoff or respond indignantly, but instead meet with a smile and try to help them as best you can, carefully explaining what you are and aren’t able to do for them. They will remember you positively, rather than as someone obstructive you doggedly refused to help. Listen to your clients, and they will listen to you.

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2 Responses and Counting...

  1. Some very intelligent advice here. Thank you.
    http://transubstantiation.wordpress.com/

  2. Jimena

    September 10, 2008

    In spain that good customer service does not exist at all

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